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China-Argentina ‘Pig Deal’ Sparks Protests

Argentina’s citizens, including environmental and animal rights groups, are protesting a pork investment and export deal with China, a $3.5 billion agreement that makes Argentina the largest pork supplier for China. More than 200,000 people also signed an online petition to oppose the plan. As a result of the public pressure, the Argentine authorities have postponed signing the memorandum of understanding with China.

Activists accused the authorities of causing ecological damage. In the Atlantic coastal city of Mar del Plata, Juliet Paladino, a member of the environmental organization, told local media that Argentina does not have enough grain to feed the pigs. “This will mean more land to grow genetically modified corn, the destruction of wetlands and a number of protected areas. This agreement will destroy us.”

A press release that the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued on July 6 mentioned the goal of an increase in the country’s pig production of 9 million tons in four years, 14 times the current output of 630,000 tons in 2019. China plans to invest US$3.5 billion within two to three years and build 25 local farms. Each will raise 12,000 pigs. The entire industrial chain includes fodder production plants, waste treatment and conversion tanks, slaughterhouses, and packaging and export factories.

Biologist Guillermo Folguera at the University of Buenos Aires (Universidad de Buenos Aires) told the BBC that such projects are likely to lead to (more of) “the zoonotic diseases we are currently experiencing.” He explained that intensively raised animals and the large number of chemicals and antibiotics may bring considerable risks. To a large extent, it is because of the outbreak of African swine fever that China has “outsourced” this risk to other countries.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of pigs. The number of live pigs once exceeded 440 million, almost half of the global stock. However, since 2018, the sudden outbreak of African swine fever has forced China to cull millions of pigs. Many farmers have stopped raising pigs, and China’s pork production has fallen by more than half.

Professor Folguera added that similar cases in countries such as Chile, Mexico and Spain show that such giant factories will lead to serious pollution of air, water and land. The pollutants include ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and antibiotics.

Argentine environmental writer Soledad Barruti worries about water consumption, as 6000 liters of water are needed to produce a kilogram of pork. “We not only export meat, but also millions of liters of water, but no one pays for it. Another problem is the waste and toxins produced by millions of animals.”

For years, China has been Argentina’s largest market for agricultural product and beef exports. In 2019, Argentina exported more than 630,000 tons of beef to China, accounting for three-quarters of its total beef exports. The cooperation between the two countries goes beyond agriculture. In April, China replaced Brazil and became Argentina’s largest trading partner. As early as 2014, when China proposed the “Belt and Road” initiative, then Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner already set her sights on the East after the government defaulted on US$100 billion of international debt. The two sides quickly finalized a number of projects involving cooperation, such as railways and nuclear power plants.

After Mauricio Macri, who tends to be conservative, came to power, he stopped or began to review a number of Chinese-funded projects. The relationship between the two countries temporarily cooled down.

When Alberto Fernández was elected President last year, the Argentine government restarted the Patagonia dam project. In July, he approved China’s space station project in Neuquén, South Argentina, an agreement reached with Christina Fernandez in 2014. Not long ago, a well-known local media Revista News (Revista News) used “ArgenChina” on the cover to describe the close relationship between the two countries. The background is a picture where President Alberto Fernandez wears a Chinese style bamboo hat.

Source: BBC Chinese, September 4, 2020