(Recasts throughout to reflect resumption of BRF operations in Lajeado)
By Roberto Samora and Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, May 15 (Reuters) - Operations at a Brazilian chicken and pork plant owned by BRF SA are expected to gradually resume starting on Friday, about a week ahead of schedule, after a shutdown due to a novel coronavirus outbreak, the company and an industry group said.
The reopening of the plant in the town of Lajeado in Rio Grande do Sul state was announced by Francisco Turra, president of Brazilian poultry and pork processor association ABPA.
BRF, the world's largest chicken exporter, later confirmed in a statement to Reuters that it had reached an agreement with local officials to reopen the plant, which was one of only two such facilities closed due to coronavirus outbreaks in Brazil.
The company's plant was ordered by a municipal court on May 8 to close for 15 days, and BRF said it made a series of commitments in order to obtain permission to resume operations.
The company has agreed to test all its workers at the plant for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, within 15 days and to forward those results immediately to Lajeado's health authorities, according to a statement from the officials who negotiated the agreement.
ABPA said Brazil has more than 400 meat processing units, praising the fact that "only" two large facilities were shut due to outbreaks of COVID-19.
The other key site closed due to outbreaks is a chicken plant operated by rival JBS SA in Passo Fundo, which also is located in Rio Grande do Sul state.
Turra said the measures taken to prevent contamination in Brazilian meat-packing factories were working.
ABPA said Brazil's pork exports in 2020 are expected to exceed initial expectations, while chicken exports will also remain strong driven due to Chinese demand.
ABPA estimated Brazilian shipments of pork at between 900,000 tonnes and 1 million tonnes in 2020, which would represent 33% growth compared to 2019.
In December, ABPA had predicted a hike of at least 15% in Brazilian pork exports in the year.
ABPA also reiterated projections for Brazilian chicken exports this year, pegging volumes at between 4.3 million tonnes and 4.5 million tonnes, which would represent an increase of up to 7% from 2019. (Reporting by Roberto Samora Writing by Ana Mano Editing by Franklin Paul and Paul Simao )