“Buy local” is usually an exhortation to consumers to be more environmentally conscious. But in Argentina, it is now law.
The government’s tough interior trade secretary, Guillermo Moreno, has told supermarkets they can no longer import foreign foods that can be produced at home – so it will be adiós to Spanish hams, au revoir to French cheese and Swiss chocolate, and arrivederci to Italian pasta and olive oil, among other items considered luxuries.
The government fears the Greek crisis, which has weakened the euro, could trigger a flood of cheap food imports. However, one representative from the industry, who asked not to be named, said Mr Moreno had been threatening the ban since before the latest market turmoil.
“There’s a lot of concern because we still don’t know clearly what products are affected and we don’t understand why this is being done,” he said. “Moreno is acting like a mediaeval monarch.”
Mr Moreno’s job in the government includes enforcing price controls designed to contain inflation. He has a reputation as a blunt-talking bully, who issues orders verbally rather than leaving a paper trail.
If the aim is to keep down prices, it could well backfire as local producers may hike costs without competition from foreign producers. Ecolatina, a consultancy, says food prices already jumped 15 per cent between December and March, the biggest rise since 2002, and inflation overall is expected to be at least 25 per cent this year, way above the discredited official data.
Supermarket bosses, who will now have to change purchasing orders, were seeking urgent talks with Mr Moreno this week to define a list of outlawed goods. Cargoes that are in transit or have arrived at customs are expected to be allowed in before the ban – whose duration has not been specified and impact cannot yet be quantified – takes effect.
“We don’t consider it a bad thing to protect national production, but we hope it will be implemented well and won’t trigger reprisals,” said Fernando Aguirre, a spokesman for the Argentine Chamber of Supermarkets, which groups domestic companies in the sector.
The worst hit will be large chains such as Jumbo and Disco, which are both owned by Chilean retail group Cencosud and both carry a large range of imported foods.
It is not yet clear whether foreign beers will be covered by the measure. Some sweetcorn from Brazil is under the spotlight, even though supermarkets say there is not enough local production to meet demand. But other items such as palm hearts and tuna, which are not produced in Argentina, will be given the green light.
European tinned tomatoes, which supermarkets often imported as a backup in case of poor local crops, will now be banned. And Argentina will also have to pass up its cheap tinned peaches from beleaguered Greece.
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