Brazil beef ban ignites anti-Canada campaign

Like Canadian whisky dumped in disgust, Ottawa's ban on imports of Brazilian beef is spiralling downward with threats of retaliation that could end in an all-out trade war.

Arguing that the beef ban is both hurtful and unjustified, some Brazilian politicians have suggested blocking Canadian imports in protest.

There have also been calls to boycott the Summit of the Americas in Quebec in April, where about three dozen countries plan to discuss a hemisphere-wide free trade zone.

"This (fear of mad cow disease) was a farce," Agriculture Minister Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes told reporters after a meeting with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

"I think that if we don't have a quick solution to this problem, the first victim is going to be the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas)."

Infuriated restaurant owners tossed Canadian ducks and poured Canadian liquor into the trash. Protesters also dragged a cow to Canada's embassy, insisting that the country's beef poses no health risks.

Brazil's Foreign Trade Chamber (Camex) said Thursday that it's going to make it harder for Canadian businesses to get their goods through customs. Mining companies will also have trouble getting new licences approved.

Canada suspended imports on Feb. 3 because of concerns over mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE.

Under the free trade agreement, the United States and Mexico were also obliged to ban further imports.

Although there have been no cases of BSE in Brazil the Canadian government said Rio had not responded to requests to prove its herd was BSE-free.

Canada is currently embroiled in a trade dispute with Brazil over airline subsidies.

In presenting the resolution to suspend trade agreements with Canada, congressman Aloizio Mercadante said the country "must act firmly to defend its economy and not passively accept the aggression being committed against it.''

Brazil has unveiled a list of Canadian products that could be barred from the country, including wheat, sulphur, fertilizers, paper and chemicals.

Anti-Canadian protests

To support Brazil's claim that its cattle don't have mad cow disease, a group of students delivered a 223-kilogram cow to the Canadian Embassy in Brasilia on Thursday and suggested it be barbecued.

In Sao Paulo, two trade associations representing 5,000 restaurants and bars distributed stickers saying, "This establishment does not sell Canadian products."

Some trade analysts in Canada have called Brazil's threat at trade retaliation hollow, arguing that the country would be foolish to cut off economic ties under these circumstances.

"What are investors going to think of a country which begins to interfere with legitimate businesses (solely) because they're being called to account to observe rules which they accepted?" asked Bill Dymond of the Centre for Trade Policy and Law.