From trade wars to animal disease outbreaks, and, of course, COVID-19’s upending of supply chains, there have been numerous disruptions in agricultural trade over the last several years. While maybe not at the same level of significance as these other events, an ill-advised export ban by Argentina is yet another trade-related event to add to the list.
Last week, Argentina’s president announced a 30-day ban on beef exports as part of an attempt to control rising inflation, which is approaching 50%. In protest, the country’s main farm groups said they would launch a nine-day halt in livestock trading. There are also reports of processing plants in the country shutting down in response to this decision.
While the export ban could very well be counterproductive for Argentina, it is unlikely to have a negative impact on U.S. producers and may even lead to increased U.S. beef exports. While the immediate impacts of the Argentine government’s decision are short-term (assuming the ban is not extended), it has the potential to disrupt beef import and export supply chains and will likely place upward pressure on already elevated beef prices.
Argentina as a beef exporter
In 2020, Argentina was the world’s fifth-largest beef exporter, exporting over 700,000 metric tons of beef and beef products. China/Hong Kong is by far Argentina’s largest customer, accounting for over two-thirds of the country’s beef exports. The next largest customer is Russia, at 7%, followed by Chile, Israel and Germany at 5%, 4% and 3%, respectively.
Argentina hasn’t historically been as large an exporter as it currently is, largely increasing its exports over the last three or four years and posting a five-year increase of over 200% in 2020. As Argentina’s global exports have increased, so have purchases from China/HK, growing from 16% of Argentina’s exports in 2012 to 70% in 2020 and pushing China/HK to the top of Argentina’s customer list. In the early years of this time frame, Hong Kong constituted the lion’s share of those exports and mainland China was virtually zero.
However, as incomes have risen in the country and consumers’ tastes and preferences have changed, China came to demand more and more of that share. The onset of African Swine Fever at the end of 2018 precipitated increased Chinese demand for all animal proteins, helping to drive this increase in Argentina’s beef exports.
by Michael Nepveux /