The F&B industry is very well positioned

The agricultural and food sector is one of the most dynamic actors in the Argentine economy, both on the internal and external markets. For this reason, the Under Secretary for Food and Beverage was established to promote the sector. With the new national government taking over in December 2015, the food and drink industry was given the much-anticipated recognition with the creation of an under-secretary for food and drink. , which depends on the Secretariat of Added Value of the Ministry of Agro-Industry. It is led by agricultural engineer Mercedes Nimo, who, in addition to being the executive director of Copal for five years, was in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food for 16 years until 2010.

Emphasis on food: What is the importance of the Undersecretariat for F&B?
Your Mercedes: Since they were undersecretaries, they gave the food and beverage industry the role that the sector was looking for, the prominence that it must have when it is one of the sectors that most promotes the development of Argentina. In 2010, when the Ministry of Agriculture was established, the area of ​​food, which was the National Administration, disappeared. In December 2015, the Ministry was not only promoted to include the food industry, and agribusiness in general, but also received the higher title of undersecretary.

É.A: What are your responsibilities?

MN: We have two areas of work: vertical, which deals with economic analysis and monitoring the development of the sector. And another horizontal or transversal one, in which we work with value-added tools such as organic production, quality seals, labels of origin, education and training mainly for small and medium-sized enterprises, work on quality issues, implementation of management systems, regulatory framework, Mercosur food standards, Codex Alimentarius, among others.

É.A: In what situation did you find the sector?
MN: I think the most critical issue is the regional economies, which have been neglected for at least two or three years. Now begins the process of reconstruction and recomposition, which will take a long time. Small producers are offered a number of measures such as the creation of revolving funds; while favorable loans are granted to the largest industries, new markets are sought and exports with value-added products are being worked on.

É.A: What do you mean by added value?
MN: When we talk about added value, one of the most important things is intangible. A product can have many attributes, but you need to know how to sell it. Many of the things mentioned have to do with what Argentina means, with the products that are developed in each region and how they are made. From a technological point of view, Argentina is very competitive in food production, at the forefront of technological innovation in many sectors. When customers begin to see this, they appreciate the type of product they are being offered. Of course, they are also guaranteed to have the products traceability from raw materials to the final product.

É.A: What tools do you have to add value?
MN: We have different tools: Appellation of Origin (DO) and Geographical Indication (GI) which are related to the geographical origin; and the Argentine seal of food quality that links the product to the country. To obtain it, quality protocols are implemented that companies must adhere to so that the state grants them the use of the seal for two years, during which they must maintain an audit system that guarantees continued compliance. So far, there are 76 products that have this seal, including grass, tea, endive, anco squash, raisins, oil, dulce de leche and honey.

É.A: What are the new markets of interest?

MN: Today, the Ministry of Agro-Industry has a Secretariat for Markets, which focuses on the importance of opening up to the world. Especially in 2014 and 2015, the export of food dropped a lot and what is expected is that this situation will reverse. As for the search for new markets, we are looking for those in which we once participated significantly, such as the USA, which is one of the countries that buys the most value-added products from Argentina: organic products, wines, olives, olive oil, raisins, olives and dulce de leche. We are also targeting Asian markets. We do not see the European Union as a big market because of the unfavorable economic situation they are going through.

É.A: How are sodium reduction programs and trans fat free Argentina 2014?

MN: With the sodium reduction program, which has been implemented for 5 years, we are the leader in Latin America. It was a very successful process because we worked through a dialogue between the public and private sectors, looking for possible goals from a technological point of view and the deliciousness of the product. In the first 4 years, according to the Ministry of Health, we reduced 2 grams sodium consumption. The adoption of a law on sodium reduction is awaited, which will make the reduction widespread in all products.
For its part, the program for Argentina 2014 without trans fat celebrated in December of that year the entry into force of regulations published in 2010. Although there are some categories of products that have technological problems in replacing trans fat, it is a program that works very well.

É.A: What are the goals of the Undersecretariat?

MN: One of our goals is to try to be more efficient in updating the Food Codex and to be proactive in order to keep up with rapid technological developments. The focus is on improving the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises, bringing them closer to technological innovation processes, for which we are working with the Ministry of Science and Technology. On the other hand, we are working, in addition to searching for new foreign markets, to promote investments in the territory. We want companies to settle in productive regions of the country with the local development that entails. We have the concept of added value at the source, that is, linking the installation of industry with territorial development.

É.A: What worries you in the industry?
MN: Concerns about foreign trade are recurring, especially because of the economic situation in Europe and Brazil. Another structural issue, and more complex, has to do with logistics costs, for which port infrastructure and routes must be developed and the Belgrano plan implemented to reactivate regional economies.

É.A: How do you see the future of the food industry?

MN: The industry has no structural problems with competitiveness, so after the opening of foreign trade, it can quickly generate foreign exchange. From the point of view of quality and offer, we are very well positioned.

General content editor of Énfasis Alimentación Latinoamérica magazine.

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