Argentina lifts beef export quotas

Argentina's new government has informally lifted restrictions on beef exports imposed by the previous government in a bid to ensure reasonable prices at home, the secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries told Reuters on Monday.

Argentines are among the world's most voracious beef eaters and local beef prices are a hot-button political issue. But farmers say the restrictions are not the solution, adding they have damaged profitability and prompted them to cut investment.

"There are no restrictions any more," Agriculture Secretary Ricardo Negri said in a telephone interview, corroborating reports from farmers. The measure has not yet been officially published.

President Mauricio Macri, who took office last month, campaigned on a platform to reduce state intervention in Latin America's third-largest economy and promised to end all export quotas. He has already lifted such restrictions on shipments abroad of wheat and corn.

Argentina's powerful farming groups had fiercely opposed former President Cristina Fernandez over these quotas as well as hefty export taxes she introduced to boost low foreign reserves.

"The mood has changed in the sector, now that expectations are good, producers are ready to increase production," said Miguel Schiaritti, the head of Argentina's meat industry chamber. "They are exporting without the state imposing any restrictions.

Under Fernandez's government, exporters had to register their export request and wait for approval. Now they no longer need to wait, said Schiaritti.

Beef exports will likely only rise slightly in 2016 from their current level of around 200,000 tonnes per year, growing more strongly in following years, Schiaritti said.

"We must wait a while, exports will change in the first few months but only slowly," he said.