It’s been heard a lot recently that 2020 was a year to forget, that we wish it had never happened, and that 2021 couldn’t come soon enough. But was it really a lost year?
It would be absurd to deny that it was a hard year. It had been decades since our society had experienced a situation like this. We had had more than 40 years of “relative” calm (relative because Chile tends to surprise us from time to time with events that always make us come out stronger).
The events of October 2019 and later Covid set the pace for navigating 2020, and they will probably remain as key factors, at least in 2021.
The loss of thousands of lives will be by far the most painful ordeal we were forced to face. Some experienced the loss of family members or coworkers first hand. Others watched it from afar, but always with uncertainty, knowing that the disease could take someone close to us at any time: the fear of losing a loved one was probably the most dominant feeling we had to deal with in 2020.
In this scenario, work appeared to fade into the background. I believe this is the main and hugest lesson from 2020: family and work are still the core of our society. It is the place where we seek refuge when facing a problem, and where we share our triumphs and frustrations.
Of course it was a major challenge for companies. Acknowledging that their role goes way beyond a simple contract between two parties -as many often describe the relationship between employer and employee- and taking on a double leadership role by helping to care for those who work at each company and their families, while continuing the business and thus continuing to contribute to Chile’s growth.
Our industry in particular had to take on the enormous challenge of maintaining operations in spite of all the difficulties. Our animals need to be cared for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They do not respect curfews or lockdowns: they need to be fed and cared for every day, so the public can have healthy and safe food. Together with the authorities, we designed protocols and regulations that allowed us to meet both goals: protect the health of those who work in the industry and maintain our productive operation. And we did it.
Years of efforts from the industry and the authorities in opening and keeping new markets, as well as caring for and protecting our health asset, were rewarded in 2020. Although demand was impacted by the spread of Covid and the lockdowns, it didn’t happen all at once in every country, which allowed the industry to react and redirect products to markets that were not as affected. The strategy paid off, and in 2020 we managed not only to keep our production and sales, but also Chilean meat exports reached USD 1.365 trillion thanks to an increase in pork prices in China.
2021 will not be easy. Although the vaccine brings the hope of recovery for the second half of the year, we will face a similar scenario to the one we experienced in 2020 and companies’ resilience will be put to the test once again. This is why we must be faithful to the strategy that we have always set for ourselves: to produce under the highest biosecurity standards in order to provide healthy and safe products.
The main challenges will be to keep working together with the authorities to reassure our consumers in Chile and the world; preserve and expand on trade agreements with third countries to keep accessing international markets in favorable conditions that allow us to stay competitive with other meat producing countries; and finally, to strive to keep developing a first-class sustainable meat producing and exporting industry that contributes to the growth of Chile and its people.
Juan Carlos Domínguez, President of ChileCarne, the Chilean Meat Exporters’ Association