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310443

Argentine farmers threaten protests if grains export taxes rise

By Maximilian Heath

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Argentine farmers will hold protests if the government increases export taxes in a bid to control domestic food prices, the country's CRA rural association said on Wednesday ahead of an afternoon meeting with President Alberto Fernandez.

There is currently a tax of 33% on soybean exports from Argentina and 31% on soyoil and soymeal. In the case of corn and wheat, the tax on their sales abroad is 12%. The taxes are paid by export companies, which pass the cost down to farmers.

Government officials have said those levies might be increased as the country struggles with consumer price inflation that hit 36% last year, and 4% in December alone. Fernandez was set to meet with farm leaders Wednesday afternoon.

In recent days, Fernandez accused growers of being one of the main drivers of inflation and warned that export taxes will rise if they do not increase domestic food supplies.

The statements caused concern among farmers.

"We are going to make it very clear that we are not going to accept the farm sector being blamed for food price inflation," said Jorge Chemes, head of the Argentine Rural Confederation.

"We are not going to accept any type of increase in export taxes," Chemes said, adding that "some measure of protests will be taken if the government advances with these measures."

Chemes will participate in the meeting with Fernandez along with representatives of the Argentine Rural Society (SRA), the Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA) and the CONINAGRO farmers group.

Argentina is the world's top exporter of soyoil and soymeal livestock feed. It is the No. 3 exporter of corn and is also among the leading international suppliers of wheat.

In recent months, international commodity prices have reached their highest levels in years. While this benefits Argentina's fiscal coffers and reserves, the government has pointed to the trend as a factor driving up prices at supermarkets.

The government last month moved to restrict corn exports with the aim of limiting increases in local food prices, though it ditched that idea after strong criticism from growers and a commercial strike by the main rural associations. (Reporting by Maximilian Heath, Writing by Hugh Bronstein Editing by Paul Simao)

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