The ABCD group of companies: ADM, Bunge, Cargill and (Louis) Dreyfus account for 75-90% of the global grain trade. They provide the fertiliser for the soya, and here, as elsewhere, dominate the processing industry that divides the beans into oil for food manufacturing and protein meal for animal feed.
Soya has turned Argentina into a global agricultural powerhouse alongside Brazil. These two countries are, with the US, the largest exporters of soya in the world. Without them, there would have been no cheap factory chicken and no global livestock revolution. The industrial soya complex arrived in Argentina from North America with a bang when the government approved the planting of genetically modified crops for the first time in 1996. Since then soya production has gone from 1m hectares (2.4m acres) to 17m ha, and 60% of productive land is now given over to the monocrop. Many of the beef cattle have been squeezed into US-style feed-lots to be fattened on grain instead of grass, and 2.5m ha of woods have been lost.
The Argentinian authorities took the dramatic step of suspending all four big transnational traders from their export register this year, accusing them of tax evasion. Last month, it expelled Bunge from the register altogether. Bunge paid about $100m in corporate income tax in Argentina a year. "Then it decided to set up an office in the tax-free zone of Uruguay's capital Montevideo. From that date, it suddenly declared no gains in Argentina. We cross-checked with Uruguay and we found they had not exported anything from Montevideo and had almost no staff there," Ricardo Echegaray, head of the Argentinian revenue service said. "These companies have descended into criminality," Echegaray said. The "untouchables", as one Argentinian official described them. The companies with the biggest sales show the least profits. "But all the work is done here. The soil is Argentinian, the harvest is done with Argentinian machinery by Argentinians, it is transported on Argentinian roads, through Argentinian ports. It uses Argentinian services and resources – so why are all the gains made in Argentina appearing on paper in other countries?"
Eduardo Barcesat, the constitutional lawyer said "The US big traders control most of the storage and the price. This is a move to put things in order: no more cheating. Argentina is not getting enough of the value of its resources. We are colonised and we have to be free."
But now the Chinese state-owned agribusiness company Beidahuang has joined the global scramble for land and water. The company had signed an agreement, with the government of Patagonia's Río Negro province, which provides the framework for it to acquire up to 320,000 hectares (790,000 acres) of privately owned farmland, along with irrigation rights and a concession on the San Antonio port.