Argentina's 2005 beef exports will hit at least $1.3 billion, Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos said late Wednesday, according to Dow Jones.

This would put beef exports up about $300 million from 2004, Campos said, noting that Argentina is currently shipping beef to 85 countries.

Beef sales have been on the rise since 2003, when they totaled 379,366 tons, or $694 million, according to the animal and food health agency, Senasa.

"Beef exports are rising and they will continue to rise," Campos said. "Production is up and it will continue to rise to meet demand."

Tuesday, the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, declared northern Argentina to be free of foot-and-mouth disease via vaccination. Campos said this declaration should make it easier to negotiate the opening of such lucrative beef markets as Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

These and other markets have been closed to local beef since authorities here belatedly disclosed a massive outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001. The foot-and-mouth-free status will also enable Argentina to export fresh beef to China, Campos said.

China already allows beef imports from below the 42nd parallel, which has long been free of foot-and-mouth.