June 1, 2010: D-Day for Imported Foods in Argentina

According to a verbal decree issued  on May 6, 2010  by Argentina’s interior secretary, Guillermo Moreno, today was to be the day that Argentina banned the import of foreign food products that had a domestic equivalent. This was another ill-thought-out plan by the government without any written guidelines regulating what would or would not be allowed. (Beer? Cheese? Pasta?)

There was considerable confusion amongst supermarket managers as well as significant backlash from Argentina’s neighbors as well as the European Union. Many countries complained that it violated World Trade Organization as well as Mercosur policies. The Argentine government had to start backpedaling. They issued numerous denials about  the ban and stated that it was all a misunderstanding.

For the moment, it appears that this ban has not been put into place, although one never knows if and when it will return. This is Argentina after all. In fact, a May 26th article in Businessweek notes that many products were being delayed at Argentina’s borders and ports and many business were applying self-imposed restrictions because of the level of uncertainty regarding the ban.

Deciding to “see for myself,” I took a trip to the Carrefour supermarket in Vincente Lopez today. I had a bit of a scare when the first thing I saw was a display of imported food on clearance. I thought, “Oh god, they are clearing out all the imports!” (As I quickly grabbed three bags of Snyder’s pretzel rods at 60% off.)

Luckily, it looks like that really was just a clearance sale on some items. The regular import section of the supermarket looked the same as it had last week:

So, I’m happy to report that yes, expats can still buy overpriced imported food.

I realized that I had never really paid close attention to the prices on imported products before, so I took note today.  Let’s look at some of these prices:

Wesson Canola Oil: $40,99 (US $10.47). Price in the US, $3.99.
Prego Pasta Sauce: $21,99 (US $5.62). Price in the US, $2.99.
Swiss Miss: $27,99 (US  $7.15). Price in the US, $4.52.
Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp: $26,99 (US $6.90). Price in the US, $3.79.
Campbell’s Cream of Celery: $20,99 (US $5.36). Price in the US, $0.88.
Snyder’s Cheddar Cheese Pieces: $23,99 (US $6.13). Price in the US, $2.51.
Sapporo Beer: $28,99 (US $7.41). Price in the US $2.69.

All I can say is that Argentina already seems to have taken care of the issue of buying local products by levying high taxes on imports. Everything is at least double the price you could find it in the States.  In fact, I am not sure who would buy these products other than expats craving a taste of home and the wealthy.

So, Argentina, I am going to say that you have nothing to worry about. Your protectionist policies are already secure.  Leave the few imports we have here alone so that us expats can enjoy a bit of a taste from home from time to time.