Argentina food chamber knocks back government prize freeze plan

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -Argentina's umbrella food industry chamber said on Tuesday that a government proposal to freeze prices on some 1,650 food and household goods fell short of an offer the sector could accept and criticized officials for pushing a one-sided deal.

The standoff is a blow to the South American country's center-left administration, which is looking to freeze prices to tamp down resurgent inflation ahead of crunch midterm elections in November, where it is expected to face losses in Congress.

The government had flagged talks with the Coordinator of the Food Products Industries of Argentina (COPAL) on Monday to advance toward a deal it hopes will help rein in monthly inflation that spiked to a lofty 3.5% in September.

COPAL, however, said in a statement that the call from the government for price freezes did not give the food and beverage sector enough guarantees. The body says it represents 35 chambers and over 14,500 food and beverage companies.

"The approaches made so far reflect the lack of will on the part of the authorities to make an agreement with the sector," COPAL said, criticizing the government for not taking proposals from companies in the sector into account.

"The industry is not the cause of the inflation but suffers its consequences," Daniel Funes de Rioja, president of COPAL, added in the statement.

COPAL said the food and beverage industry was "willing to reach an agreement on price freezes" but called for "genuine dialogue instead of unilateral decisions."

"We continue to hope that an agreement can be reached," said presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti, adding the government was looking at proposals and modifications.

"We are trying to consolidate a list and we are going to wait until the last minute because the intention is clearly to reach an agreement."

Argentina's domestic trade secretary, Roberto Feletti, recently warned that in the event of not reaching a deal, the measure would be pushed through via a government resolution.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Walter Bianchi in Buenos AiresEditing by Mark Porter and Matthew Lewis)

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