Chilean beef imports increased 16% in the first seven months of 2005 compared to the same period in 2004, according to a report from the Santiago Chamber of Commerce.
Although this means a slight decline from the May expansion of 22%, total imports reached 75.915 tons equivalent to 247 million US dollars. Imports in the same period last year totalled 65.239 tons.
The main importers are the supermarket chains which dominate the Chilean retail market.
Alejandro Maira, General Manager of Quinto Cuarto, one of the main beef importers said that the slight decline in June, July can be attributed to climatic reasons, "since border crossings have been closed because of the snow and many of the trucks have been stuck in the border".
Mr. Maira added that August beef imports should increase above 20% and similarly September which is a month of celebrations in Chile with several national festivities.
However beef farmers are not so enthusiastic.
Chilean farmers grow their best livestock for export but since the Chilean peso is so strong they are increasingly tempted with the domestic market.
But the domestic market has seen a massive influx of Brazilian, Argentine and Paraguayan beef at very competitive prices besides the fact that the supermarkets are involved in a price war.
"The higher purchasing power of Chileans and the Chilean peso has seen imports balloon, which has made local abattoirs considerably reduce their activity, limited to the export market", complained Andres Allende, president of Lo Valledor Chile's main beef producer.
Actually quality beef abattoir activity has been cut by half and this has had an impact in livestock prices in Chile.
Beef exports are also threatened because the European Union recently reclassified Chile to category 3 (the highest) of mad cow risk.
"If this is picked by other countries the industry could be in serious trouble", added Mr. Allende.