(Adds details on U.S. poultry shipments)
By Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, July 15 (Reuters) - Brazilian meat companies are poised to increase production and exports this year as sales to China continue to exceed expectations and the COVID-19 pandemic has failed to deter local food processors, according to ABPA, a lobby group representing pork and chicken suppliers.
The local companies, which have kept production virtually at a normal pace even after plants suffered from outbreaks of the respiratory disease, project a potential 33% rise of pork exports, to up to 1 million tonnes this year, and a potential 5% growth in chicken exports, to 4.450 million tonnes, ABPA executives told a press conference on Wednesday.
While ABPA members have reassured Chinese buyers local products are "COVID-19 free" following outbreaks at certain production units, it said meat cargoes destined for the Asian country are not being tested ahead of shipping.
"We are certain meat does not transmit the disease," said Ricardo Santin, ABPA executive director.
U.S. poultry exporters are not testing shipments to China either, said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. He said U.S. poultry products are still entering China and that he is unaware of China rejecting shipments because exporters did not make assurances that they were free of the coronavirus.
"We know that poultry cannot be a vector for the virus,” Sumner said.
ABPA has reaffirmed a June estimate of selling about 1 million tonnes of Brazilian pork and chicken meat to China in 2020, up from 834,000 tonnes last year.
To support the rise, Brazil's 2020 pork output may grow by as much as 6.5%, reaching a potential 4.250 million tonnes this year, while chicken output could grow by 4% to 13.8 million tonnes.
China imported almost 600,000 tonnes of both types of meats from Brazil through end-June, as local ports suffered no disruptions amid the pandemic.
Brazil has 64 plants approved to sell chicken and pork to China, but four were recently banned because of outbreaks of COVID-19 among meat plant workers in Rio Grande do Sul state.
The Brazilian government is working to reverse the Chinese bans, ABPA said.
Also, the sector has hired an estimated 20,000 people after the pandemic started, ABPA said, as it described measures to counter labor shortages and production snags. (Reporting by Ana Mano; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago Editing by Marguerita Choy)