China and Argentina agree landmark beef deal

By Mark Godfrey

- Last updated on GMT

Whilst an agreement has been made, China and Argentina still disagree on antibiotics
Whilst an agreement has been made, China and Argentina still disagree on antibiotics

Related tags: China, Beef

Argentina is celebrating the renewal of a beef deal with China, despite a crackdown on antibiotics contamination which saw a large shipment of its meat destroyed by China.

The agreement, which expired on July 23, was renewed during a late July visit to China by an Argentine beef delegation led by the country’s agriculture minister Carlos Casamiquela.

Argentine beef exports to China came under scrutiny after China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) agency found traces of the banned antibiotic chloramphenicol in an 11,000t shipment of Argentine beef.

Rubber stamp

Argentina appears to have got the Chinese rubber stamp on a new protocol for standards of beef sold to Beijing, even at a time when China is cracking down hard on food safety through the AQSIQ, which has published statements on its website alerting its regional offices to be “extra vigilant​” in inspecting shipments of meat through ports and land borders for quality control purposes.

The current rules on sanitary inspections will continue in force,​” according to an article on the agreement published in the People’s Daily, the daily newspaper of China’s Communist Party. The purpose of his visit was to “ensure exports of Argentine beef continue as normal​”, said Casamiquela, who met agriculture vice minister Yu Kangzhen as well as Wu Qinghai, head of the AQSIQ, during his visit.

Casamiquela was accompanied by Diana Guillen, head of Argentina’s agri exports quality watchdog Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (Senasa).

Exports are continuing as normal,​” according to a statement from Senasa, which says chloramphenicol has been banned in Argentina since 1995. In April, Senasa said it was following up on AQSIQ information to trace the source of chloramphenicol in farms supplying beef.

Stricter inspections

China’s exit-import quarantine and quality enforcement body the AQSIQ has pledged stricter inspections of meat imports this summer for banned antibiotics such as chloramphenicol. Trade watchers will be waiting to see if this could lead to a slowdown in beef shipments into the country. After all, China blocked imports of several batches of Australian beef in 2014 due to high presence of hormone growth promoters.

There’s a lot at stake for Argentina given that 80% of its exports to China are agricultural. China’s interest in Argentina as a source of agricultural resources was evident from a range of Chinese executives from well-financed state conglomerates on hand to meet a delegation led by the Argentine agriculture minister to the G20 meeting of agriculture ministers in China in May. Executives from the China Meat Association and the China Investment Corporation as well as state-run agribusiness conglomerate (and meat processor) COFCO were on hand to discuss potential deals.

Western meat exporters have long chafed at China’s embrace of Argentine meat imports as the country seeks to further its strategic partnership with the South American nation.

China’s keenness to invest in Argentina may explain its relative low-key approach to the chloramphenicol discovery – the find received little attention in China’s state-owned media which regularly reports food safety issues involving Western retailers and food brands in China. Argentina offers a “stable and secure environment​” for Chinese investment, promised the Argentine minister speaking to the People’s Daily during his visit. Argentina is a key supplier of soybean and grains to China while Chinese fisheries firms have invested significantly in the country.

China is Argentina’s top destination for beef exports: last year it shipped over 40,000 tonnes, up 110% year on year and accounting for 36% of Argentina’s total exports.

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