Uruguay Takes On Multi-Million Dollar Chicken Smuggling Trade

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Customs authorities in Uruguay have seized over two tons of contraband chicken as part of a crackdown on the smuggling networks that are exploiting tax laws and exchange rates to undercut the country’s legal economy.

Uruguay’s National Customs Directorate (DNA) announced it has launched over 100 counter-smuggling operations along the Brazilian border in the last week. Of these, 40 resulted in seizures adding up to 2.5 tons of contraband meat.

The wave of operations followed meetings between DNA leaders and the Uruguayan Chamber of Poultry Processors (CUPRA), who had previously claimed one in four chickens consumed in Uruguay is smuggled in from Brazil in a contraband trade worth $40 million a year. The smuggled chickens undercut their legal competitors by over 20 percent as they do not pay import tariffs, fees, or sales tax.

According to the DNA, the operations are targeting major smuggling networks as well as small time smugglers, reported El Observador.

InSight Crime Analysis

Uruguay’s DNA had begun focusing its anti-smuggling efforts on the border with Brazil even before the latest operations, as the devaluation of the Brazilian Real over the last year has created a new economic incentive for smuggling. According to the commercial guild known as the Artigas Center for Commerce and Industry, along the border region of Artigas the new flood of contraband from Brazil is costing members a total of $25 million a month. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Contraband

Smuggling can be found throughout the region wherever such economic incentives are present and can represent a major threat to legal economies. While much contraband around the region is moved by low level smugglers trying to squeeze out a living in difficult circumstances, the profits on offer have also spurred the development of sophisticated smuggling mafias that operate in countries such as Peru and Colombia.

The measures taken to combat smuggling in Uruguay have already proven controversial, with residents of border regions protesting the disruption to their lives — a phenomenon reflected around the region where smuggling is often seen as part of daily life.

If Uruguay is to successfully tackle the trade, it will need to learn lessons from neighbors such as Colombia and Venezuela, which are learning the hard way that increasing border security is not a permanent solution as long as economic incentives remain.

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