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HIGH ‘STEAKS!’ Cattle exports ‘beef up’ local meat prices

By Michelle Sutherland

The price of beef has increased due to an ongoing price war between Mexican and Guatemalan cattle buyers that was triggered by the Mexican government’s recent decision to remove the import duty for select export commodities.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), on May 16, 2022, in an effort to combat inflation in his country, issued a Presidential Decree to exempt 66 tariff items from import duties. The list—which includes live animals—covers cattle and meat products. The resulting hike in cross-border demand and competition has left a handful of local meat processors feeling the effects of the price increase.

Belarmino Esquivel, of the Ministry of Agriculture with responsibility for coordination and development of livestock in Belize, explained the higher prices had nothing to do with shortages.

“I don't believe that there is a shortage, it is more of a price war that is going on,” he shared. “Please note that Mexico recently waived the 15% tariff and there is more interest from other companies coming into Belize to look for the beef that we have. The Guatemalans, after hearing of the waiving of that tariff, have increased their prices from $2.10 to $2.30 and in some instances to $2.35. … The local meat processing facilities are paying … about $2.15 or $2.10. So that is basically what the situation is; it's not really a shortage. We are self-sufficient in beef.”

Esquivel further explained that obviously, the cattle producers will do business with whoever is paying more for their products, which will translate to more money in their pockets, even in the midst of price increases in grains and other products needed to sustain their livestock.

While Esquivel noted that the ministry has a responsibility to ensure that there is food security in the country, he said that they cannot manage everything. Esquivel said that the Ministry will keep an eye on the situation as it develops over time; however, he added that the local meat processing facilities have three options. They could get in on the competition, wait until the prices fall back down, or reestablish contract agreements with local farmers.

Mindy Garcia, general manager of the Belize Livestock Producers Association, also clarified that the ministry has also communicated with the different livestock farmers and processing facilities across the country, all of whom have reported that there is no shortage.

“We have always mentioned that we have enough beef to supply to our country and maintain for our local consumption,” reiterated Garcia. “There has been a recent increase in cattle prices and that is due to the recent announcement of the tariff removal for the Mexican export. This has brought competition among buyers; Guatemalan buyers, and Mexican buyers. So farmers are now starting to benefit from a slight increase in cattle prices and farmers will sell to buyers that pay them the most,” ended Garcia.

She said that while slaughtering facilities would usually have their animals ready for slaughter, that doesn't appear to be the case at this point. They have reported back that due to the ongoing drought in the country some of their animals are not ready for slaughter and so they have resorted to depending on products from local farmers, who are now locked in the price war between the Mexicans and Guatemalan buyers.

Currently, Belize has a national herd of 170,000 cattle spread across the country. Experts say that the country has over 30,000 cattle that are readily available annually for local consumption and export. To date, the country has already exported a little over 12,000 animals, which is not even half the amount that is intended for export. Currently, an additional 15,000 to 20,000 cattle stand ready to be potentially exported out of the country.

The situation was highlighted earlier this week when Running W Brand Meats issued a release saying that they would skip this year’s National Agriculture and Trade show due to a scarcity of beef and pork on the market.

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