Argentina plays hard to get with importers
February 09 2014 12:21 AM
President Cristina de Kirchner
President Cristina de Kirchner

Not having ketchup is a fast food fanatic’s nightmare, and it has come true in Argentina: McDonald’s ran out of the seasoned tomato sauce, and company officials publicly apologised to customers.

The shortage was attributed not to poor planning or unexpected demand but to Argentina’s many barriers to curb imports. “The lack of ketchup packets is temporary,” a source close to McDonald’s told DPA.

Sources close to the multinational said that they expect the problem to be solved next week. McDonald’s knows import barriers in Argentina all too well.

For close to 30 years, the company has cultivated a local supply network that includes meat, vegetables, bread, potatoes, cups and packaging materials. Many of those local products are exported to other McDonald’s restaurants across South America and as far as Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and North America.

But not ketchup, which is one of the few products that McDonald’s imports into Argentina, in this case, from neighbouring Chile.

The curtailed ketchup joined a cavalcade of public complaints over import policies. A few months earlier, coffee chain Starbuck’s had difficulties importings its trademarked paper cups.

The government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner imposes restrictions on the import of industrial inputs and finished goods in an effort to slow the exit of dollars from the local economy.

“The problem with delays in import permits runs across the board,” Diego Perez Santiesteban, president of Argentina’s Importers’ Chamber (CARI), told DPA. “It affects all branches of industry and importers of consumer goods, reactants for medical use and machine parts, among others.”

Santiesteban noted that new Trade Department authorities are working “with more technical guidelines” after the December departure of controversial former trade secretary Guillermo Moreno. “But so many things had been delayed that many companies cannot replenish their stocks,” he said. Every import permit is reviewed and approved manually, one by one.

“It is gradually becoming more flexible, but it remains too slow,” Santiesteban warned.

Economist Dante Sica, who leads the consultancy company Abeceb, identified “shortages in every sector”.

“Industry does not get as bad as to halt the production line, but sometimes it is within an hour, or even half an hour, of having to do that,” he told DPA.

In the coming days the government is reportedly planning to implement a new system to restrict access to dollars to pay for imports.  Importers would reportedly be asked to secure foreign loans or money from their corporate headquarters abroad to pay for the goods and services they want to import into Argentina.

Trade authorities would make exceptions for special cases in sectors such as healthcare, infrastructure, energy, culture, sport and essential goods and services, the financial daily Ambito Financiero reported.

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