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05/08/2006 | Monsanto Row Hurts Argentine Soymeal Sales To Spain

Reuters Staff

Spanish soymeal importers who rely on Argentina could buy more from Brazil due to a messy dispute between Argentina's government and Monsanto Co. over soybean royalties, the director of a Spanish animal feed group said on Thursday.

 

For more than a year, U.S. biotech giant Monsanto has been delaying Argentine soymeal shipments at European ports, arguing that royalties were never paid on the soy containing its Roundup Ready gene, modified to resist Roundup herbicide.

The company has stopped charging royalties in Argentina, where Roundup Ready seeds were never patented and where fees were difficult to collect due to a vast black market. So it has turned to European courts to enforce its patents abroad.

"Our sector is being forced to look for other suppliers for next season," Jorge de Saja, director of the Spanish Confederation of Feed Meal Producers, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

De Saja, who is also co-director of the European feed meal group FEFAC, said importers are likely to gradually substitute Argentine soymeal with Brazilian supplies.

"Next year, if this problem is not resolved, we will buy 20 to 30 percent less Argentine soymeal and buy more from Brazil. In the following season this will continue, until in three or four seasons, we will have eliminated Argentina as a supplier altogether," De Saja said.

LOSING A KEY MARKET?

Argentina is the world's top soymeal exporter and the No.3 soybean exporter and producer, after the United States and Brazil.

Europe is the main buyer of Argentine soymeal, with Spain leading purchases. Between January and May, Spain bought 1.6 million tonnes of the roughly 10 million tonnes sold abroad, acccording to Argentina's Agriculture Secretariat.

Between 60 and 70 percent of Spain's soymeal imports come from Argentina.

"There are already some export companies that have told us, to put our minds at ease as clients, that next season they will use Brazil as their supplier over Argentina," De Saja said.

So far, Monsanto has gotten authorities to detain Argentine soymeal shipments in Spain, the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark. The company has also sued importers in these countries to enforce its Roundup Ready patents there.

Since the start of the year, 20 shipments have been held up in Spanish ports and four more elsewhere in Europe, an Argentine government source said on condition of anonymity, adding that the delays increase the cost for importers.

"Five million euros ($6.4 million) could be the estimate of additional costs we have had to pay for Argentine soy. There are people who believe it is much more, it's very hard to calculate," De Saja said.

"The problem is not just the additional cost, but rather that this distorts the pace of production," he added.

Argentina's government has responded to Monsanto's judicial offensive in Europe by asking to participate as a third party to the patent lawsuits, arguing that the company's moves harm national interests.

"The Argentine government thinks the solution is in the courts and that is never the solution. Lawsuits entail risks, uncertainty, they could go against you, they take time. And we are companies, we can't play the lottery," De Saja said.

 

Reuters (Estados Unidos)

 


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