Suspension of some Argentine meat exports to China not seen hurting industry: chamber

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine meat processing plants that have temporarily stopped exporting to China will not have to suspend for more than 10 days and the situation poses no long-term threat to the sector, the head of the local meat industry chamber said on Thursday.

China, the main destination for the South American country’s beef, has been clamping down on meat imports amid concerns about COVID-19, which is gripping countries around the region, including key food producers Argentina and Brazil.

Eight Argentine meat plants have suspended shipments to China, according to official data, after employees tested positive for COVID-19. But the suspensions will be short-lived, Miguel Schiaritti, head of Argentina’s CICCRA meat industry chamber, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s not a serious problem,” Schiaritti said.

Suspensions usually last about a week while plants are disinfected and employees get checked for COVID-19, according to Argentina’s Senasa food quality inspection agency.

“In the worst case, the suspension is 10 days,” Schiaritti said. “It’s not something that would have a material effect.”

The eight suspensions leave Argentina with 88 meat plants authorized to export to China. The suspensions came after Beijing asked Argentina to offer guarantees amid the pandemic.

Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Sola told a virtual news conference on Thursday that when health risks arise at food export plants “we close them until the client has the most absolute guarantee. We do not want there to be any doubts.”

Senasa officials said on Wednesday that the Friar meat packing plant was among the eight whose exports to China had been suspended. On Thursday, a source close to the company said that was not the case and that the plant was operating normally.

Argentina says 76% of the 328,170 tonnes of bovine meat exported between January and May was destined for China.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Maximilian Heath; editing by Jonathan Oatis