Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the SAGa

One of the most boring things I can think of to read about on a blog is a long tirade of complaints about an esoteric event that I can't relate to my own life. In spite of this, I feel like I owe it to you to explain where in the world I have been and what in the world is going on with our sheep.

We went to Australia with the intention of buying sheep genetic material and growing our own sheep here in Chile. But we quickly found out that buying a live animal was about the same cost and produced more return on our investment (ie we could sell its genetics to others; we had most 'doses' of the 'genetic material') and a much faster result in our flock (a live animal is ready to breed immediately whereas growing our own would take two years). We like to make sound business decisions and buying a live animal sounded like one.

Chile is a very isolated country with few diseases of animals and plants, so there is very tight import control on these. We decided to investigate the process of bringing in a live animal, but because we were in Australia already and the Chilean officials don't have information posted online, the only way we could determine the protocol was to call and enquire.

Any of you reading this from Chile are probably laughing right now because you know that "calling and enquiring" always leads to some sort of disaster. But we were lucky--our vet was with us and she knew the director of Animal Importation for SAG, the Chilean USDA, and we were able to call him directly. "Sure!" he said, "No problem. You just have ot ship the animals through a SAG-approved export and quarantine center." Excellent! thought we. There was one available to handle our animals.

At the end of September, we began the official process of getting import approval, which begins not with filling out paperwork, but with constructing a letter that includes information and answers to questions that you must pull out of the ether. If it's not just right, they basically ignore you. Naturally, they ignored us.

They ignored us for so long, in fact, that we had to make several increasingly angry calls to get any sort of response (which included, of course, "Send it again, but this time hand deliver it. And get a signature. And make copies. And....")

By the middle of October, we got an answer: "I don't know where you got your information, but the farm where you buy the animals has to be inspected and approved first." Huh. We informed them that our information came from their boss and we asked to speak with him. He wouldn't take our calls, the calls of our vet, nor the calls of several of his colleagues who tried to contact him on our behalf. We had been shunned and had nowhere to turn== there was no written mandate supporting our side or theirs, but they had the distinct advantage of being The Ones Who Make The Decisions.

What ensued was a ridiculous dance, the intricate details of which I won't bore you with. But I will tell you that it involved many more letters hand delivered to small offices deep in Santiago, emails CCed to half the universe, calls denied by more and more officials and finally my having to go directly to the Australian Embassy in Santiago to complain that Chilean officials were interfering with perfectly legal trade with their country. It was clear that SAG had no interest in approving our request.

But boy, calling the embassy sure made Chile move. In the end, we did have to send someone to Australia to approve the farm. He was meant to leave on December 9, and it was only on December 5 that they called us and said that the trip was approved and that we had to buy the plane ticket (yeah, of course we had to pay for all of this). And then we had to give them expense money for the trip, but naturally being a Federal Office of Chile, they did not accept the Official Currency of Chile. No, they wanted to be paid, mysteriously, in US dollars. In Chile, this is not a transaction that can be completed by phone or internet. You have to buy US dollars at your home bank, then physically take them to the State bank for deposit. We were at the farm when we were informed of this, and they wanted the money within 12 hours. So we had to make a special trip into Santiago to buy and transport the currency of the United States to the bank of Chile for a trip to Australia. This, my lovely readers, is an example of effective government practice.

In the end, Nick says it wasn't all bad because now we have become intimately acquainted with several national-level government officials (not all of whom are complete morons), as well as several Australian diplomatic officials. We made a name for ourselves as Those Dang People Who Wouldn't Shut Up, and of course, we get the sheep.