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ECONOMY | 07-06-2020 21:46

Meat upheaval in US lets Argentina back in the beef game

After America’s meat-processing woes opened up a window for importers, Argentina shipped 1,290 metric tons to the United States in April.

America’s meat-processing woes opened a window for importers and Argentina pounced.

Beef shipments to the United States from Argentina jumped to 1,290 metric tons in April, the latest US Department of Agriculture data show. A year ago, US importers bought a measly two tons.

April is the same month that outbreaks of Covid-19 among US meatpacking workers triggered a wave of shutdowns that tightened local supply and sent prices rocketing.

To be sure, Argentine beef exports had already begun to pick up under President Mauricio Macri, who left office in December. Macri negotiated access to the US market, which re-opened to Argentina in late 2018, ending a ban that began in 2001 after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Exporters needed time to set up distribution networks to supply top-end US restaurants, hotels and caterers, which wanted quality cuts, said Miguel Schiariti, president of Argentine beef industry and trade group Ciccra.

Shipments started flowing in the second half of 2019, but they surged in April amid the American processing logjam. While US plants have reopened, they are yet to return to full capacity. Argentina accounts for just one percent of total US imports.

“Argentina was able to take advantage of the supply shortfall,” Schiariti said. “This could be an opportunity to plant a flag.”

Even under President Alberto Fernández, who prefers intervention over Macri’s free-market approach, the nation’s beef export boom seems set to continue.

Some anecdotal evidence lies in the arrival this week of almost a hundred rabbis from Israel to certify Argentine plants as kosher, according to Infobae. Exports of Argentine beef climbed 18 percent in the first four months to 162,000 tons. China is the biggest buyer.

Neighbouring Uruguay also benefited from shortages in the US, said Marcelo Secco, head of meatpacker group Adifu. Shipments that cleared customs in April were 3,760 tons, the most since July 2019, according to the USDA.

While Brazilian shipments to the United States doubled in May, the volume was still small at 277 tons compared with a record 83,942 tons shipped to China, according to Economy Ministry data. Still, exports to the US may keep growing given Brazilian fresh meat only recently regained access after safety concerns dating back to 2017.

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by Jonathan Gilbert & Ken Parks, Bloomberg

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