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UPDATE 2-Argentina halts meat exports for 30 days amid inflation fears

(Adds government confirmation of the plan)

By Jorge Otaola

BUENOS AIRES, May 17 (Reuters) - Argentina announced a 30-day halt on meat exports on Monday amid rising prices that have spooked the government as it struggles with runaway inflation ahead of key mid-term elections at the end of the year.

The government said it would implement the emergency measure due to a "sustained increase in the price of beef in the domestic market," confirming what government and industry sources told Reuters earlier on Monday.

The government added that during the 30-day halt it would implement other measures to improve regulation of meat exports. The halt could potentially be shortened if those other measures were successful in bringing down prices.

"Exports are closed. Tomorrow we will continue negotiating with the government," an Argentine meat industry source with export body ABC said, adding the measure was the wrong move to make despite the rising prices.

Argentina is famed for its cattle ranches and sizzling cuts of steak, which are a central part of the country's social fabric, where many gatherings of families and friends are held around the "parrilla" barbecue grill at the weekend.

However, rising meat costs have come under fierce scrutiny in recent months. Some consumers - already hit hard by three straight years of recession - say they are no longer able to afford beef. Inflation has sapped growth and spending power

Argentina has in recent years ramped up meat exports, especially to China, helping propel the sector but also stoking fears that rising exports could push up domestic prices.

The country's center-left Peronist government is looking to defend its strong position in Congress in mid-term elections at the end of the year and bolster its popularity with voters, which has taken a beating during the coronavirus pandemic. Argentina was the world's sixth-biggest beef and veal producer and the No. 5 exporter in 2020, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. (Reporting by Jorge Otaola; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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