The decline of Argentina’s beef industry

Argentina has made a name for itself around the world with its steaks. But things are changing dramatically in this country. Fish exports have overtaken the more traditional beef exports, which reflects the rapid decline of the farming sector in recent years. The latest figures seen by the BBC show that during the first quarter of 2011 Argentina exported more than 145,000 tons of fish and seafood, double the amount of beef sent abroad during the same period of time. And while fish exports are on the rise, beef is looking at the wrong side of the scale. (source: by Vladimir Hernandez – BBC News – 25/07/2011)

Farmers say that production levels are still falling fast, largely because of the government quotas on beef exports that have been in place since 2006. “The government decided to cut down on exports in order to push for an increase in the internal offer of beef, in an attempt to reduce the price of the product for local customers,” says Carlos Pujol, a beef trader in Buenos Aires. “But the type of cuts that our industry exports is not the same type that is consumed inside Argentina”. “Therefore the stock levels have dropped as there is no incentive to produce something that won’t get eaten.” Traditionally cuts like filet mignon are destined for exports, while others like skirt tend to be a popular choice within the country.

Official figures show that in 2005 there were more than 57 million cattle heads in Argentina. Last year this number had fallen to 48 million – a drop of more than 15%. To put things in perspective, neighbouring Uruguay, a major beef exporter, has a stock of about 11 million cattle heads, almost the equivalent of the amount lost in Argentina in the last half a decade. Argentine beef exports also show a steep decline. In 2005 Argentina sent 483,000 tons abroad, whilst in 2010 the figure was less than half, as the year closed with 191,000 tons of beef exported, the lowest in a decade. The Argentine government insists its priority is to guarantee cheap beef for the population, with a strict grip on export allowances. “It is a typical measure of left-wing governments. We are now producing a beef with lesser quality but cheaper for local consumers,” says Mr Pujol. Also the drop in prices has not necessarily meant an increase in consumption. Quite the opposite, in fact: between 2009 and 2010 annual consumption fell from 68kg per person to 56.7kg. This meant that for the first time in a century Argentina lost (to Uruguay) the top spot as the world’s biggest meat-eating nation.

But while there is less Argentine beef in foreign markets the country’s fish is gaining ground. In 2010 the fishing industry in Argentina had a record year for exports, with more than $1.33bn (£816m) worth of fish and seafood sold abroad. For this year things are still looking promising, admits the president of the Council of Fishing Companies in Argentina, Oscar Fortunato. The sector has exported more than $400m in the first quarter, which represents a jump of almost 40% from the same period of last year. “The growth in the volume of exports of fish and seafood is happening while the beef exporting industry is going through difficult times. But both events are not related in any way,” Mr Fortunato tells the BBC. In recent years the Argentine fishing industry has been widening its targeted markets. It currently exports to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean and even neighbouring Brazil. White fleshed fish is a typical product, but seafood represents an important part of the production because of its higher selling prices. “Although things might be going well for us we have a different level of risk,” adds Mr Fortunato.

“We don’t have an internal Argentine market where we can sell our products, almost 95% of the production is exported”. “If we would place 7% or 8% of our production for local consumption the market would be saturated,” he adds. This is because of a traditional and cultural characteristic of the Argentine diet. “We don’t normally eat fish. This is definitely still a beef-eating country,” says Alberto, a fishmonger in Buenos Aires. But the happy times for the Argentine fishing industry have dark clouds ahead. Hand by hand with the increase in exports there is also a rise in production costs, especially in labour. Workers pushed and obtained for better salaries, with a rise of at least 65%, which came into effect this year. Mr Fortunato also explains that the industry is subject to the variations in international prices for fish and seafood. “We feel limited because we don’t have a local market where to place our products,” he says. But for now, things in Argentina are looking much brighter from the sea than from the traditional grasslands where the iconic steak is produced.

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Pentecostés judicial

Una de las más grandes lacras de la justicia ecuatoriana ha sido siempre la perezosa y remolona conducta de los jueces para acelerar el despacho de las causas. La argumentación que más a mano han tenido los judiciales para explicar y justificar su permanente mora ha sido que la gran cantidad de causas los desborda y se requiere aumentar drásticamente el número de administradores de justicia y personal de apoyo para poder equilibrar el desnivel entre trabajo y despacho oportuno. Otros argumentan que hay desidia y corrupción, pues se comenta que sí se mueven las causas en que hay gratificación previa. Por ello, la gran cantidad de personas que no pueden proveer esos costos ilegítimos son víctimas de la parálisis procedimental, que llega hasta a sacrificar la libertad de los inocentes. El problema es estructural, y entendidos y neófitos lo pregonan a diario, por la constante queja de los afectados. Por eso, cuando una causa es despachada y resuelta prontamente, se presume entonces que hubo intereses poderosos de por medio, o que el poderoso fue el caballero Don Dinero, que tiene la fórmula para aceitar todos los engranajes que entraban la administración de justicia. En todo caso, la celeridad, aunque extraña, es siempre bienvenida. Pero, cuando ya no se trata de celeridad sino de vertiginosas actuaciones judiciales en casos connotados, que rompen todos los récords de velocidad de lectura de una persona, y de redacción de sentencias, entonces ya la curiosidad se convierte en suspicacia, y todos comienzan a preguntarse si, acaso como en Pentecostés, el Espíritu Santo ha infundido a un Juez tal sabiduría que le ha permitido realizar en tiempo exiguo algo que es imposible de llevar a cabo por personas de mentalidad sobresaliente. Eso ha ocurrido con el juez Paredes, que conoció la causa que por injurias inició el presidente Correa contra el editorialista Emilio Palacio, el diario El Universo y sus directores, quien en tan solo 33 horas pudo leer con profundidad cerca de 5.000 folios del juicio, razonar argumentos y pruebas, formularse un criterio definitivo y redactar un fallo de 146 páginas, condenando a los acusados. No entraré a considerar cuestiones de fondo, como en qué se basó para establecer responsabilidad penal en una persona jurídica, y hacer a un lado la aplicación de convenios internacionales sobre derechos humanos, pues esos son temas que han tratado con profundidad y versación otros analistas. Mi gran asombro surge porque me es imposible aceptar que una persona que, supuestamente posee mediana inteligencia, haya podido desarrollar un trabajo intelectual y físico que no están en capacidad de gestar hombres y mujeres talentosos y de formación jurídica mucho más sólida que el susodicho juez. Y, para acentuar mi asombro, encuentro que el juez, en su voluminosa sentencia, pasa por alto el desarrollo de la audiencia final, la parte culminante del proceso. ¿Por qué se le olvidó hacerlo? (art. Enrique Valle Andrade – Diario Hoy, Ecuador – 27/07/2011)

Comércio entre Brasil e Argentina deve superar US$ 40 bilhões em 2011

Apesar das restrições comerciais entre a Argentina e o Brasil, o comércio bilateral deve passar de US$ 40 bilhões em 2011, superando o recorde dos US$ 30 bilhões verificados no ano passado. As estimativas são do embaixador brasileiro em Buenos Aires, Enio Cordeiro, que se mostrou otimista com a relação entre os dois maiores sócios do Mercosul, mesmo com queixas comerciais de ambos os lados. “Não se pode negar que as barreiras afetam, mas não tem que dramatizar esses problemas do comércio porque, de maneira geral, estes assuntos estão sendo administrados”, afirmou aos jornalistas brasileiros na capital portenha, durante entrevista coletiva, nesta terça-feira. (Fonte: Estadao, Brasil – 27/07/2011)

Às vésperas da chegada da presidente Cristina Kirchner ao Brasil, Cordeiro afirmou que “o clima entre os dois países não poderia ser melhor”. Cristina será recebida pela presidente Dilma Rousseff, na sexta-feira em Brasília, às 11 horas, para uma reunião de trabalho. “O comércio, evidentemente, vai estar na agenda, porque os problemas continuam, mas as presidentes não vão analisar medidas técnicas”, disse ele. Segundo o embaixador, Dilma e Cristina vão analisar se os mecanismos aplicados pelos dois países para administrar as restrições impostas de um lado e de outro estão sendo eficientes.

“Na minha avaliação, está funcionado bem porque, de janeiro a junho, o crescimento anual das exportações brasileiras para a Argentina cresceram 35% e da Argentina para o Brasil aumentaram 20%”, opinou Cordeiro. O embaixador estimou que o déficit comercial argentino com o Brasil deverá aumentar de US$ 4 bilhões para US$ 6 bilhões nesse ano. Mesmo assim, ele considera que o contexto geral da relação comercial é positivo. “Nos primeiros seis meses do ano, o Brasil exportou US$ 10,5 bilhões para o mercado argentino, enquanto a Argentina exportou US$ 8 bilhões ao Brasil. Esse é um desempenho comercial que nenhum dos dois tem com nenhum outro país”, ressaltou o diplomata. Para embaixador, reunião entre Dilma e Cristina não deverá apresentar decisão sobre a elevação da Tarifa Externa Comum (TEC) porque a elaboração da proposta com as especificações sobre as condições e os procedimentos de funcionamento do mecanismo ainda está em debate. Durante discurso na Cúpula do Mercosul, realizada no dia 29, em Assunção, Dilma defendeu a aplicação de medidas comuns de defesa comercial para proteger as indústria do bloco regional. Na ocasião, o ministro da Fazenda, Guido Mantega, retomou a proposta que a Argentina apresentou no ano passado de elevação da TEC para frear o aumento das importações de produtos provenientes de fora do Mercosul, para que estejam, comprovadamente, afetando a competitividade das empresas nacionais. Atualmente, a tarifa máxima cobrada para mercadorias de fora do Mercosul é de 35%, e a média é de 14%. Quando a proposta foi apresentada, houve resistência por parte do Brasil, Paraguai e Uruguai. No entanto, diante do aumento das importações, especialmente de produtos chineses, os sócios se mostraram mais dispostos a debater o assunto. 

Obama’s China Re-Balancing Act

Over the past two years, the United States has deepened its strategic engagement in Asia to balance China’s more assertive foreign policy and its military modernization, both of which have rattled the region. This balancing has included developing new strategic partnerships with Vietnam, Indonesia, and India, deepening existing alliances with South Korea, Australia, and Japan, pressuring China in multilateral forums, and taking steps to maintain US force projection capabilities. (source: by Thomas Wright – The Diplomat – 26/07/2011)

As a strategy, balancing reassures US allies and partners in Asia, but it also runs a risk –executed poorly, it could make rivalry with China a self-fulfilling prophecy. Balancing against China could empower hardliners in Beijing who argue that they can’t trust the West and discredit those who favour a prudent and cautious foreign policy. Yet failure to balance would tell the hardliners that they can pursue a revisionist foreign policy without resistance from the United States – hardly a recipe for stability. This is the balancing dilemma – how to deter a competitor from a revisionist foreign policy without discrediting those individuals who seek partnership with the West.

Take the growing tensions and competition in the South China Sea as an example. In China, it’s widely believed that Vietnam, the Philippines and others are stoking rivalry around disputed territories to get the United States to balance China now before Beijing is strong and confident enough to resist. As the US responds, China worries about encirclement and containment. This perception provides hardliners with a powerful argument – only a tougher, anti-western line can stop a strategy of encirclement before it’s too late. On a recent trip to China, I heard some foreign policy analysts express considerable concern that this argument could resonate with an increasingly nationalistic population, particularly in a crisis, and lead to a shift toward the hardliners. However, the United States can’t just maintain the military status quo. US balancing is in response to a noticeable shift in Chinese defence and foreign policy. Chinese military modernization, such as the development of its ballistic missiles, puts major US bases at risk. Reform of the US force posture, including the dispersal of US forces throughout the region, is necessary simply to maintain the credibility of US commitments in Asia. Avoiding such reform might appear to be the status quo, but in reality it would severely undermine it.

However, even if the current strategy is defensible, the dilemma remains. To understand how the United States can balance China while avoiding unintended consequences, it’s necessary to draw a distinction between two types of balancing strategies: The type of balancing, known as containment, that the United States engaged in during the Cold War was aimed at weakening its adversary. Containment’s key political objective was to sow the seeds of discord within the Soviet Union so it would ultimately collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. The United States sought to delegitimize the Soviet Union, isolate it, weaken it economically, and undermine it from within. Only Nixon demurred, accepting the right of the Soviet Union to exist as an empire. Containment was a form of cold warfare. The ultimate goal was victory and transformation of the international order. The second type of balancing is to preserve the equilibrium. This strategy accepts the right of a rival to exist and even prosper, as long as it does so in a manner consistent with the status quo. This type of balancing characterized most of 19th century European statecraft. States competed with each other, often sought an upper hand and strategic advantage, and occasionally fought. But they always seek to preserve the basic shape of the state system and ensure that its member states enjoy stability, peace, and the recognition of their legitimate interests. This type of balancing was almost entirely absent during the Cold War, save for a brief period of détente during the Nixon administration and at the end of the Reagan administration.

Americans, and others, often conflate balancing with containment, but the Obama administration’s effort in the Asia-Pacific is a marked departure from Cold War strategy. Instead of weakening China, the United States is responding to the risks posed to US bases by Chinese military modernization and to requests from the rest of the region to bolster the geopolitical status quo. It’s designed to prevent fundamental change to the order. While balancing China, Obama has also deepened the Strategic and Economic Dialogue and sought to integrate China into international institutions. China has a legitimate concern about containment, but balancing to preserve the equilibrium poses much less of a threat to it and may even offer an opportunity. The problem is that in their early stages both strategies look alike. If American intentions change, the equilibrium approach could also morph into containment. This is why the United States ought to take steps now to ensure that its balancing strategy sticks to, and is perceived by China as sticking to, the preservation of the equilibrium. The United States must avoid containment or any perception that containment is the end goal. The key to this approach is to marry balancing with a renewed commitment to economic cooperation with China, showing that the United States supports Chinese prosperity. This would demonstrate that the goal is not to weaken China, but to foster an environment in which peaceful and mutually beneficial co-existence is possible.

What does all of this mean in practice? On the one hand, the United States must deepen its strategic engagement in Asia to respond to the changes in China’s defence and foreign policy. It should insist on the peaceful and multilateral resolution of territorial disputes. It must support democratic states and human rights to prevent regional backsliding. It should guarantee freedom of navigation and protect the autonomy of its partners and allies. Most importantly, it must maintain the credibility of US power that underwrites the order as a whole, which will entail deepening alliances and developing new strategic partnerships. At the same time, the United States should continue to maintain neutrality in territorial disputes. It should not seek to overthrow the Chinese regime nor should it embark upon a long term campaign to de-legitimize it. It should encourage greater Chinese participation and influence in international institutions. And, above all, the United States should cooperate with China to promote a healthy global economy.

This distinction between the two types of balancing should encourage China to pursue a moderate foreign policy while also hedging against a turn for the worse. It demonstrates that Washington will respond if China upsets the existing order, but it also rules out any action designed to weaken China as a nation. It is also consistent with the fact that both countries are interdependent and rely upon each other to solve common challenges, including the international financial crisis, climate change, and nuclear proliferation. Meanwhile, Chinese moderates can argue that if China moves toward a truly revisionist foreign policy it runs the risk of triggering a US shift toward containment, thus strengthening their own position. US-China relations are entering a competitive phase. The key challenge for Washington and Beijing is how to compete responsibility so they can avoid a dangerous era of instability and preserve the cooperation necessary to tackle shared problems. Unfortunately, America’s Cold War experience doesn’t provide much of a road map. Responsible competition requires moving beyond the recent past and rediscovering a more nuanced approach to balancing.