Argentine farm tensions build over government beef export ban

Argentina is the world's no. 5 beef exporter

  

BUENOS AIRES- Argentine farm groups will halt trading of livestock in protest against a 30-day government ban on beef exports aimed at bringing down domestic prices, the country's main producer groups said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The South American country's center-left Peronist government unveiled the 'emergency measure' to tamp down high inflation on Monday, putting it on a potential collision course with the powerful farm sector that drives exports.

"Producers reject an export closure that will undoubtedly harm all of Argentina," the country's four main rural associations said in a statement announcing a nine-day halt in livestock trading starting on Thursday in protest.

The standoff underscores the fragile balance the government needs to strike between supporting farm exports that bring in much-needed foreign currency and bringing down damaging runaway inflation that is set to near 50% this year.

The farm sector, dominated by grains including soy and wheat, has a history of clashes with Peronist governments over tax hikes and export caps, including with former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is now Vice President.

CHINA EXPORTS

Argentina is the world's no. 5 beef exporter and has been increasing sales to markets like China, which has bolstered the country's ranchers but stoked fears about inflation, especially with poverty levels soaring amid a long recession.

President Alberto Fernandez has in recent weeks criticized rising local beef prices and pointed to profit making by exporters who can charge higher prices to overseas buyers.

Omar Perotti, the governor of important farming province Santa Fe and part of the ruling coalition, said that the export ban was not the way forward and that it could harm the sector.

"The solution is to increase production and not close exports," he wrote on Twitter. "We have the conditions to supply the internal and external market, maintaining the possibility of exporting our products to the world."

Argentina is famed for its cattle ranches and sizzling cuts of steak, which are a central part of the local social fabric, with many gatherings of families and friends held around the "parrilla" barbecue grill at the weekend.

However, rising meat costs have come under fierce scrutiny in recent months. Some consumers - already hit hard by three straight years of recession - say they are no longer able to afford beef. Inflation has sapped growth and spending power.

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Writing by Adam Jourdan Editing by Alexandra Hudson) ((adam.jourdan@thomsonreuters.com; +54 1155446882; Reuters Messaging: adam.jourdan.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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