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Argentina trucker strike talks fail, threatening grains exports

By Maximilian Heath

BUENOS AIRES, April 13 (Reuters) - Argentine grain-truck drivers, industry groups, and government officials failed to make a breakthrough in talks on Wednesday to end a strike, raising a threat to corn and soy exports during the key harvest season.

Truckers who haul grains have been on strike since Monday, which has brought to a near halt the transport of soy and corn to the South American country’s main grains ports. The truckers are demanding higher freight rates to offset rising fuel prices.

“Unfortunately, we did not manage to lift the strike,” Diego Giuliano, secretary of transportation management, said in a statement.

Edgardo Aniceto, a spokesman for the Federation of Argentine Transporters (FETRA), which represents the truckers, confirmed there was no agreement and that the strike would continue.

Argentina is the world’s No. 1 exporter of processed soy oil and meal and the No. 2 for corn. The crops are being threshed from the fields after drought and frosts have already dented production of the two grains.

The strike has yet to hit export shipments, though port sources said the impact could be felt in the coming days if the protests continued and grain reserves in the port terminals ran out.

“The lack of an agreement severely harms exporters; it is essential that the strike be lifted as soon as possible,” Gustavo Idígoras, head of the CIARA-CEC grains processors and exporters chamber, told Reuters.

“We have 450,000 tonnes that can’t enter ports, 50 ships in line, huge logistics costs, and Easter is coming. This is going to lead to a total paralysis of shipments and foreign exchange if it is not resolved before Monday.”

Argentina has been suffering for years from high inflation, which has accelerated worldwide since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The war has driven up many commodity prices, including the cost of cereals and fuel.

Argentina’s Minister of Economy on Monday said that March inflation would exceed 6%.

Trucks provide the transportation for some 85% of Argentina’s grains shipments to ports, which typically leads to busy roads in farming regions from April onward.

That traffic has dwindled to almost nothing. Data from agricultural logistics firm AgroEntregas showed 13 trucks entered ports on Wednesday, down from 4,000 to 6,000 a day before the strike.

The Argentine Rural Society (SRA), a powerful farm body, said both sides needed to budge to reach a deal.

“Until the strike is lifted and the government guarantees the supply of diesel at a transparent price, an agreement will not be possible,” SRA secretary Carlos Odriozola said.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath. Editing by Adam Jourdan, Barbara Lewis, Mark Porter, Diane Craft, and Cynthia Osterman.)

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