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Argentina's World-Famous Beef Will Once Again Enter US Market After Ban Is Lifted

The lifting of the ban was met with muted enthusiasm from Argentina's beef producers, who say their government has over-regulated and hurt their industry. Producers expect to make $280 million a year once imports resume.

by Gaston Cavanagh
Jul 6 2015, 4:50pm

Imagen por Natacha Pisarenko/AP

In 2001, the United States government banned the importation of beef from Argentina after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a decision further worsened by diplomatic disagreements between both countries.

The 14-year ban left Americans unable to taste a fresh Argentine steak inside their country. However, the world-famous meat is expected to experience a return to American soil, after the US government lifted the ban on June 29.

The announcement by the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, part of the country's Department of Agriculture, said meats from northern Argentina, an area that stretches from the Rio Negro province to the border with Bolivia, will be granted access to US market as of August 29.

"We had been waiting for the announcement for a long time," Gonzalo Alvarez Maldonado, chairman of Argentina's Institute for Promotion of Beef, told VICE News in an interview.

"Since 2007 we have been declared by the corresponding international forums as a country free of foot-and-mouth disease. And, without a doubt, the United States is one of the most attractive markets for Argentina," he added.

In 2001, when the infection began to affect the cattle, Argentina's government initially tried to conceal the problem to American authorities, which hit amid the financial crisis that sent the South American country's economy reeling into uncertainty.

After the Barack Obama administration made public the lifting of the ban, top Argentine government officials, including the secretary of economy, the secretary of agriculture, and the foreign minister, offered a press conference to emphasize the importance of the decision.

The United States is one of the major beef consumers in the world.

Related: Talons Out: Argentina Desperately Fighting 'Vulture Funds' Over Debt

Economy secretary Axel Kicillof credited his role in negotiations with the US government for the decision, saying it was the result of "a difficult fight in exterior relations, and in agricultural technical relations."

Once the legal formalities are completed, he said, beef exportation to the United States could generate $280 million in profits a year.

Not everyone shared Kicillof's enthusiasm. Beef producers, ever in tension with the government, distrust the measure and have a rather cautious outlook on resuming business with the US.

The Argentine Rural Confederation said the true enemy of beef exportation is Argentina's government, which they accuse of neglecting and over-regulating their industry.

The government of president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and the agriculture and livestock industries were locked in months-long confrontations after the 2008 establishment of a variable tax for soybean exports. Argentina is the world's third largest producer of soybean, but faces accusations of ignoring contamination concerns over agrochemical use.

"The fall in cattle stock (10 million heads), the fall in production, the almost 20 thousand workers who are without a job due to the closing of 130 production plants, and Argentina's exit from the world beef market are just some of the problems the national government has created," read a statement published by the confederation.

The country had been ready to resume its beef exports since two years ago, but the government kept telling producers that negotiations were taking too long, even blaming Argentina's vulture funds for its inability to access the American market.

Argentina's government now hopes to re-enter the Canadian, Mexican, and Japanese markets.

Another South American country that will benefit from the lifting of the ban is Brazil, the world's main beef exporter, whose steaks will also be up for export.

Related: Argentina's Soybeans Help Feed the World But Might Be Making Locals Sick

Follow Gaston Cavanagh on Twitter @GastonCavanagh.