Argentina’s farm sector is one of the biggest and brightest in the world. Sadly the same cannot be said of the country’s political class, which has (once again) brought the country to the verge of bankruptcy.
The World Bank says Argentina is "endowed with extraordinary fertile lands."
Its agriculture sector is astonishingly productive - since 2008 its agri-exports have grown in value from some $118m to almost $900m by 2019, according to the US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).
These riches help explain why Argentina’s ministry of agriculture has just suspended the registration of all agricultural exports until further notice.
When you need money, look to the rich
The background to this is that Argentina is currently stuck in disgruntled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over its foreign debt.
The country currently owes the IMF $44bn and could well default on that loan. When you owe a bank a dollar, the bank has all the cards; when you owe it a million dollars, the power is reversed. The country has defaulted eight times since its independence in 1810.
Last December the newly-elected government raised the export tariffs on corn, soybeans, and wheat, to raise revenues. Argentina’s farmers are now bracing themselves for a repeat move, which is likely to push up the tariffs on the majority agri-exports from an average 30% to 33%.
Squeezing the farmers could be risky
Earlier this month, Vicentin SAIC, one of Argentina’s oldest and biggest dealers of soyoil and soymeal, filed for bankruptcy as it ran into trouble with suppliers over its ’delayed-price’ contracts. The agri-sector is deeply intertwined with the country’s banks, so if the big farmers are squeezed to wring more money from them, it could provoke wider economic and political disruptions.
Argentine farmers are often regarded by their politicians as a goose which lays golden eggs, and will carry on doing so no matter what. In the portals of the IMF/Argentine negotiations, one of the considerations will be - is the goose still willing (and able) to lay?