A string of contraband meat seizures in Paraguay is indicative of the way smuggling has undercut the country’s flagging domestic agriculture industry in the wake of COVID-19.
While the country legally imported 83.7 tons of meat in December ahead of the Christmas holidays, this pales in comparison to the amount of meat that constantly crosses the border illegally, mostly from Argentina. The exact amount of meat, mostly chicken and beef, being imported illegally is hard to estimate but a single seizure in December saw 15 tons of beef seized from two trucks near the border with Argentina.
Earlier in December, two tons of beef were seized near the Falcón-Clorinda border crossing with Argentina. Even police officers have been caught smuggling meat across the border.
This flood of foreign beef has hit domestic producers hard. The Ciudad del Este Slaughterhouse Association (La Asociación de Faenadores de Ciudad del Este), which represents meat processors in Paraguay’s second-largest city, reported a monthly drop in sales of 1.8 billion Paraguayan guaraní, or almost $270,000, for the sector.
One meat producer told Paraguay's Ultima Hora newspaper that he had received threats after trying to report instances of contraband to the authorities. "I was just investigating and I received an anonymous call, telling me to stop messing with it, because even the police are paid off and I wouldn't be able to do anything," he was quoted as saying.
InSight Crime Analysis
Contraband in Paraguay has long been almost institutionalized but, coupled with economic losses due to COVID-19, it is now ravaging the country’s agricultural industry.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the United Nations reported in 2021 that the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the meat industry in Paraguay, forcing smaller workforces in meatpacking plants and driving down the cost of competing suppliers in Brazil and Argentina because of currency depreciation in those countries.
At the same time, the cost of meat rose significantly, with the price of cattle almost doubling in 2021 compared to 2020 from $2 a kilo to $4. This created an incentive for consumers to seek cheaper smuggled meat.
The 2 million kilos of chicken moved illegally into Paraguay monthly forced domestic production down to only 500,000 kilos a week. The country’s poultry farmer association, Avipar, estimated in September that the legal poultry market now only accounts for 30 percent of consumption. Even producers of onions and tomatoes were not safe from illicit markets, as large seizures of were made regularly in 2021.