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Argentine farmer groups threaten to deepen protests over beef export ban

By Jorge Otaola

BUENOS AIRES, May 29 (Reuters) - Argentine rural producers threatened on Saturday to ramp up protest measures if the government did not back down on a meat export ban, an emergency measure taken in a bid to bolster domestic supply amid runaway inflation.

Farmers in the South American country have halted the domestic trade of livestock to protest against the ban. Argentina is a major exporter of grains including soy, corn and wheat, and one of the top global beef exporters.

"If we don't get answers (from the government), producers are going to ask for deeper measures where the entire agricultural sector participates," Jorge Chemes, president of the Argentine Rural Confederations (CRA), told Radio Milenium.

The administration of center-left Peronist President Alberto Fernández banned meat exports earlier this month for a 30-day period to tamp down domestic food prices, amid a long economic crisis that has been deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move created a standoff between the government and the country's powerful farm sector, which dominates exports that are key to bringing in much-needed foreign currency.

Chemes said producers had extended the livestock trading halt until next Wednesday after failing to receive a response from the government.

"The decision to extend the trading halt was actually because we have not had any kind of response or a decision from the national government to reinstate or reopen meat exports, which is what we were requesting," Chemes said.

Argentina has been in recession since 2018, with poverty soaring to 42% at the end of the last year, inflation heading towards 50% and COVID-19 cases surging once again.

The country has ramped up beef exports in recent years, especially to main-buyer China, which the current government has blamed for stoking domestic price rises.

(Reporting by Jorge Otaola; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Daniel Wallis)

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