Argentine cattle farmers on Thursday started a nine-day halt on cow sales to abattoirs to protest a government-imposed pause in exports designed to moderate skyrocketing domestic meat prices.
Argentina is the fourth-largest exporter of beef in the world, and one of its biggest consumers per capita, and the revenues are vital to the country's economy.
The usually-bustling Hacienda de Liniers cattle market in Buenos Aires was desolate on the first morning of the strike, its pens empty and with just a few administrative employees around.
The strike is not expected to lead to domestic shortages in the short term, as abattoirs and butcher shops had stocked up in anticipation.
Negotiations between the industry and government are under way.
"We will continue to dialogue to find a way out to supply the domestic market and, at the same time, boost exports. They need to be compatible goals," Internal Trade Secretary Paula Espanol said on Thursday.
On Monday, the government of President Alberto Fernandez announced a one-month suspension on foreign meat sales to "get the sector in order, restrict speculative practices and avoid tax evasion in foreign trade."
Poverty affects 42 percent of Argentines, and Fernandez is trying to reduce the cost of living by implementing price controls.
Fernandez insisted Argentina could not accept the recent rise in meat prices in a country already reeling from three years of recession and the adverse economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The price rises contributed to Argentine inflation, already among the highest in the world, reaching 17.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021, according to the INDEC statistics institute.
The cost of living soared 46.3 percent in the last 12 months, and beef prices in April were 65.3 percent higher than a year earlier, according to the Argentine Institute of Beef Promotion (IPCVA).
In response to the government's move, the Liaison Commission for Agricultural Entities which represents agricultural producers and businesses, declared a "cessation of all categories of cattle trade" starting on Thursday and lasting until May 28.
According to the Argentine chamber of industry and commerce, the industry employs some 100,000 people.
Argentines ate 38 kilograms (84 pounds) of beef and veal per head in 2019.
In 2020, the country exported 819 billion tons of beef and cow leather worth $3.37 billion -- a 16.5-percent drop from 2019 -- primarily to China, Germany and Israel, according to INDEC.