The United States has lifted the hold on Brazilian pork imports from certain areas of the country, following nearly 18 months of discussions regarding compliance with sanitary standards.

Specifically, USDA has agreed to recognize Brazilian inspectors as capable of approving slaughterhouses in the Brazil’s Santa Catarina state to export raw pork to the United States. Cooked or processed pork from some other Brazilian states may also be exported via meatpacking plants in Santa Catarina. USDA has authorized six processing plants, according to online newspaper DCI.com.br.

At issue is Brazil’s foot-and-mouth disease exposure, however, as the country’s Agriculture Ministry points out that Santa Catarina has been FMD-free since 2001.

Dow Jones Newswire reports that, according to Pedro de Camargo Neto, president of pork-industry association Abipecs, USDA's decision "finalizes a long process of authorization for Brazilian exports." While he doesn't foresee "large volumes" of pork being shipped to the U.S., he said the measure represents an "indisputable seal of quality."

U.S. Meat Export Federation officials agree. "It is not expected that this decision will lead to a significant amount of Brazilian pork coming to the United States," says Jim Herlihy, USMEF vice president of communications. 

In June 2010, U.S. officials agreed to allow Brazilian pork imports as part of a broader pact to resolve a dispute over U.S. cotton subsidies. Later that year, USDA recognized Santa Catarina as free of FMD. However, USDA officials remained concerned that Brazil didn't have enough federal inspectors to monitor the state's meatpacking plants. Those issues have now been resolved and product could start moving as soon this week.

What's more, Brazil will look to expand pork sales elsewhere. "We will now try to expand pork exports to China, open the Japanese market and resume sales to [South] Korea," Agriculture Minister Mendes Ribeiro Filho said in the press release.

In 2011, Brazil exported 516,419 metric tons of pork, which was 4.4 percent less than in 2010, but up 7 percent in value at $1.43 billion. Brazil’s largest pork market has been Hong Kong and Russia.

Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this story.