EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ Ranches and feed lots in border states may lose millions of dollars because Mexico is closing the border to cattle shipments, industry officials say.

The Mexican Commerce and Industrial Development Ministry closed the border to cattle shipments earlier this week, apparently because of a meat shortage in Mexico City, said Sigifredo Corral, head of the Cattlemen's Association in the Mexican border state of Chihuahua.

''A decision was taken at the federal level ... to normalize a supply problem'' in Mexico City, Lucila Dominguez Chica, assistant foreign trade representative at the commerce ministry office in Juarez, said Thursday.

The move stranded 2,500 calves in holding pens waiting to cross the border for fattening in U.S. pastures and feed lots, officials said.

Corral accused Mexico City butchers of trying to force ranchers in northern Mexico to sell beef on the domestic market for less than they can get from U.S. buyers.

''There's plenty of meat,'' Corral told the El Paso Times by telephone. ''All you have to do is pay what it's worth.''

He said cattle raisers in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sonora and Coahuila are calling for intervention by their state governments and the federal agriculture ministry to reverse the decision.

Corral said Mexico City consumers ''don't even want our meat. They prefer meat raised in the tropics with yellow, not white, fat.''

Chihuahua's original 1986-87 quota for cattle sales to the United States was 350,000 head, of which 308,849 have already been shipped, Corral said. He estimated the cutoff would cost Mexico at least $12 million in export earnings.

El Paso customs broker Pete Araujo said the situation was politically sensitive.

''The (Mexican) government periodically recalls export permits (as) a way of trying to bring down (meat) prices,'' he said.

U.S. ranchers already have made down payments on stock they planned to import from Mexico, Araujo said. Unless they get timely delivery of the animals, he said, they will begin charging interest or demand their money back.

Araujo said cattle imports from Mexico generate more jobs and wealth in the United States than imports of boxed beef from Australia or stock ready for slaughter from Canada.

U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian Walter Howe said he expected Mexico to allow animals already on the border to cross. Howe, who inspects stock before it crosses to El Paso, said he doubted that Chihuahua ranchers will be able to export more cattle before October.

John Hudgins of Canutillo Stockyards also voiced concern for the Chihuahuans' plight.

''They need to get the cattle out to keep from decapitalizing (because) of high interest and high inflation,'' he said.

On the U.S. side, Hudgins added, fewer animals probably will mean losses of $1.5 million to $2 million.

But Hudgins, who has raised cattle for 30 years, says he and other stockmen are used to uncertain situations.