Argentine government under fire from beef producers

By Jonathan Gilbert, in Buenos Aires

- Last updated on GMT

Argentine government under fire from beef producers
Argentina’s beef producers have claimed their government’s new trade complaint against the US over allegedly illegal American beef import controls is a spurious political smokescreen.

Ángel Girardi, president of the Argentine Association of Beef Producers, told​ it was a move “for the cameras”​, designed to obscure the pain being caused by the Argentine government’s own anti-export policies.

Argentina has become increasingly protectionist since President Cristina Fernández’s re-election in October 2011. And the agricultural sector has long been at odds with the Fernández administration, complaining that beef producers pay a 15% tax on exports. Argentina exported just 159,000 tonnes of beef globally between January and October this year, 28% less than during the same period in 2011, according to Consortium of Argentine Meat Exporters.

As a result, Girardi dismissed as a sham last week’s filing of a case by the Argentina foreign ministry at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over allegations that the US had been “impeding the entry of meat from Argentina”.​ He said: “The government has employed the mistaken, regressive politics of anti-exports. Refrigerating plants are shutting, there are fewer beef producers and Argentina is exporting less than Paraguay and Uruguay. It’s ridiculous.”

Girardi said exports were around 600,000 tonnes in 2003, the year Cristina Fernández’s late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, came to power. “There are 12 million fewer cattle today [than in 2003] because the government has shut off meat exports,” said Luis Miguel Etchevehere, president of the Argentine Rural Society. “The model has failed completely.”

The foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but said in a statement that the closure of the US market to Argentina’s fresh, refrigerated and frozen beef was a violation of the WTO’s trade rules.

Statistics from the meat exporters’ consortium show more than 9,000 tonnes of processed beef were exported to the US from January to October last year. The figure for the same period in 2012 is just 445 tonnes.

The complaint comes after the US, the EU and Japan denounced Argentina at the WTO for its import restrictions, which tightened earlier this year, claiming they are also illegal under world trade law.

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