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Another "Free-Trader" to Send Beef

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Chile starting beef exports to U.S. in December
SANTIAGO, Chile, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Chile will send its first beef exports to the United States in December as it takes advantage of a clean bill of animal health and rapid sector growth.

Chile's beef export industry is still small, but it is growing fast as the South American nation focuses on niche markets amid global animal health scares.

"Next week the agriculture ministry will visit regions to review the check list (of requirements) that will allow them to habilitate the beef plants to export to the United States," Chile deputy agriculture minister Arturo Barrera said on Thursday.

The first meat exports are scheduled to be shipped to the U.S. market on Dec. 21 and are part of Chile's push to beef up the fast-growing industry. Chile and the United States have a free trade agreement since last year.

Chile is known for its ability to produce for niche markets in agricultural and food goods, as proven by its booming wine and salmon industry and in exports of lesser-known products such as limes and avocado.

Chilean beef exports are seen hitting $80 million for the year, far less than other beef exporters, but about 150 percent more than in 2004.

Global beef markets have evolved significantly in recent years after a mad cow scare that erupted in December 2003, when a Washington state dairy cow, born in Canada, was diagnosed with the fatal, brain-wasting disease.

The discovery saw international markets close their borders to billions of dollars in beef exports, and opened opportunities for other beef producers.

Barrera said Chilean exporters are also seeking to boost their quotas to the European Union. This year, exporters filled their EU export quota three months ahead of the end of the export period.

Most of Chilean beef exports are directed to the Mexican market, where they have tariff-free access.

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