Argentina Beef Exports Slump as Govt Tries to Keep More at Home (DJ) Source: Dow Jones Newswires (dated 30/04/2010) Buenos Aires, April 30 – Argentina’s beef exports fell sharply in March as the government stalled shipments to try and stem soaring local prices. But the export limits weren’t enough to counter a price surge due to tight local supply that pushed many Argentines to sharply cut back on the size of the steaks that frequently fill their plates. Argentina’s beef exports in March totaled 27,876 metric tons–a 40% drop on the year–as the government implemented a new, cumbersome export permit system which it used to stem shipments. Exports of fresh, frozen and processed beef, in addition to innards were valued at $118 million, according to the agricultural sanitation office, Senasa. That marked the lowest March export level in six years and followed a 20% year on year drop in February. The US Department of Agriculture is expecting Argentina’s beef exports to drop to 380,000 tons this year, down 42% on the year. That will see Argentina fall into seventh place among world beef exporters, down from third place last year. The government has been holding up some beef exports since December and tightened those restrictions in March as prices continued to soar. The government regularly shuts down or limits beef exports when prices rise in an attempt to increase domestic supply and bring down the cost to local consumers. The government has used the export snags as leverage to pressure beef exporters to sell beef to the local supermarkets for well under market value. Target retail prices for about a dozen popular local cuts have been set which are well under current prices. The cheap meat was seen in a number of supermarkets this week after exporters agreed to the price accord, according to local press reports. The price of beef has shot up in recent months, angering residents in this country with one of the highest per-capita beef consumption rates in the world. Those gains have helped to stoke broader inflation, which is at worrying levels. Sticker shock at the supermarkets fueled a sharp drop in consumption during the first three months of the year. Argentina’s annual per capita beef consumption during the period slumped 18% on the year to 56 kilograms (123 pounds), according to the beef chamber Ciccra. Production during the first quarter was also down 18% on the year, totaling 673,000 tons, Ciccra said in a report Thursday. The price of beef has surged in recent months because of a drought last year and due to the government’s intervention in cattle markets since 2006. This spurred ranchers to trim herds in favor of alternative, more-profitable pursuits such as soybeans. The herd trimming resulted in production of 3.54 million tons of beef last year, up 10% from the previous record. However, production is expected to fall 13% this year to 2.8 million tons, according to the USDA. “The cattle shortage is clearly a reality, and unfortunately no measure is capable of turning that around in the short term–neither closing exports, increasing the minimum slaughter weight nor fixing prices on popular cuts,” Ciccra said. The decreased production has angered butchers who’ve seen layoffs and reduced shifts due to a drop in slaughter levels. The largest butchers union joined with farm groups to launch a two-day beef trade strike Thursday to protest the slowdown. Trade at the country’s main cattle market, Liniers, ground to a halt Thursday as ranchers held back deliveries to support the stoppage by the greater Buenos Aires butchers union, or SIGCBA. The strike comes as Argentina’s farmers are gearing up for more conflict with the government, planning a protest rally May 3 and demanding the government lower the 35% export tax on soybeans, eliminate the export tax on all other grains and free up beef exports. The May 3 protest will be the second of the year, but farm groups have vowed to hold back from the crippling roadblocks that sporadically shut down transport over a four-month period in 2008.