Booming South American Beef Trade Stumbles on Virus Upheaval

South American meat exporters, among the biggest beneficiaries of a pig-killing disease in China, are now seeing a sharp slowdown in trade with the Asian nation as the coronavirus disrupts shipments.

Argentina’s beef exports to China have almost ground to a halt as the virus restricts cargo handling in ports, Miguel Schiariti, who heads the nation’s meat industry group CICCRA, said Monday in a telephone interview.

Argentine meat-packers are seeking alternative buyers including Russia, although those markets “won’t pay nearly as much as China did,” Schiariti said. Brazilian sellers have also been divertingshipments from Shanghai to other ports in China or Hong Kong.

“It’s causing serious collection problems because there are companies that have exported but aren’t getting paid,” Schiariti said.

Chinese purchases of Brazilian meat, including chicken and pork, are also slower than usual.

Still, exporters expect a pickup, with Chinese production likely to fall after delays in feed deliveries due to government-imposed transit restrictions. The local hog herd has been decimated by African swine fever and recent cases of bird flu could further curb domestic chicken supplies.

Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay accounts for almost 70% of China’s beef imports, according to apresentation by meat-packer Minerva SA, which has operations in the three countries. Australia and New Zealand make up most of the rest.

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