By David Lawder and Michael Hirtzer
WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. pork exporters will soon be free to ship meat to Argentina for the first time in 26 years after the two countries thrashed out an agreement to overturn an Argentinian import ban.
The deal is a sliver of good news for U.S. farmers facing trade tariffs and disruption to exports to the biggest global agricultural buyer, China.
China, the top global pork consumer and soybean importer, last week imposed a 25 percent tariff on imports of U.S. pork and threatened a tariff on soybeans, sending prices for both commodities lower.
U.S. farmers need expanded export markets to shift big supplies of meat and grain that they may no longer be able to ship to China.
Argentina could grow to a $10 million-per-year market for U.S. pork, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Trade Representative's office, which announced the agreement on Friday.
"Once the people of Argentina get a taste of American pork products after all this time, we are sure they'll want more of it," USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement, adding that the deal showed the Trump administration's commitment to trade by launching markets for agricultural products.
The move follows an August meeting between Argentine President Mauricio Macri and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Buenos Aires. Argentina in 1992 blocked imports of U.S. pork, citing concerns over a parasite common in hogs raised outdoors. Most U.S. hogs now are raised indoors.
"It's going to be a little slow out of the gate, like every market is. But I think it can really develop into something," said meat analyst Brett Stuart, president of Global AgriTrends.
Last year, Argentina imported $114 million worth of pork, with 88 percent from Brazil, Stuart said.
A drought in Argentina also provided U.S. farmers with unexpected export opportunities. Soybean buyers in Argentina earlier this week purchased 240,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans, the most in 20 years, after drought cut the crop.
U.S. imports in Argentina could expand the trade imbalance between the two countries. Argentina had a trade deficit of about $3.1 billion with the United States in 2017, according to government statistics.
The United States in May reopened its market to Argentina lemons for the first time in 15 years. However, Argentina has yet to export one lemon to the United States.
The United States upheld steep duties on imports of biodiesel from Argentina, penalties that brought such shipments to a virtual halt.
(Reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Additional reporting by Theopolis Waters in Chicago and Luc Cohen in Buenos Aires; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Matthew Lewis)