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May 18, 2015

All quiet in Argentina's grains hub as more export disruptions loom




It's business as usual in Argentina's grains hub of Rosario more than two weeks after the end of a two-day strike by unions representing stevedores and other workers who needed to dock and load recently harvested soy and corn.


In those two days, international grain importers were worried the mass action could drag on for days or even months - as strike leaders vowed to do if their pay demands were not met - and disrupt the delivery of Argentinian grains, especially corn, soy and soymeal, to the rest of the world.


Argentina is the world's top exporter of soymeal and No. 3 supplier of raw soy. And located about 550km upstream from the Atlantic, Rosario is an inland port on the Parana River in Argentina's province of Santa Fe.


The strike shut down for two days all docking and loading services "at every one of the 25 ports from the city of Rosario going north along the Parana River to Timbues," a spokesman for the striking labour group said. All 25 ports constitute the Gran Rosario hub, Argentina's main point of embarkation for grains, oilseeds and derivatives.


Although they had threatened to launch an open-ended strike if they failed to get what they wanted, they returned to work shortly after, opting to negotiate with CIARA-CEC, Argentina's chamber of grains-exporting and soy-crushing companies.


Quiet for now


All is quiet in the Rosario seafront for now, but that doesn't mean trouble is over. In fact, the Argentine Confederation of Transport Workers (CATT) has called for a strike in the first week of June after failing to reach an agreement with sector business leaders during the annual wage hike negotiations.


Truckers, ferry machinists, port labourers and bus drivers across the country are said to be taking part in the strike.


During this time, South American shipments traditionally dominate the global marketplace. But traders have noticed export sales of old-crop US soybeans to have jumped in recent weeks. Foreign importers, they said, are buying from the United States as a precaution against possible supply disruptions because of these impending strikes.


Yet next month's planned strike is just one of a number of troubles grain importers have to be wary about.


In March, Argentine farmers also vowed to hold protests later this year if the government fails to respond to their grievances. The group had planned to suspend grain sales in March to protest against policies such as export quotas on wheat and corn. Growers say the quotas, which can change throughout the year, make planning impossible.


'Bigger protests very probable'


"If we don't get answers, bigger protests are very probable on the way. The nature of the actions we take will depend on what the government says in response to us," said Ruben Ferrero, president of the Rural Federations of Argentina (CRA).


During that time, the strike was not expected to impact Argentine grain supplies because ports were already stocked with cargo ready for shipping.


But the farmers promised to make sure their grievances are heard ahead of the presidential campaign for the October general election.


Farmers are protesting a 35% tax on soy exports that they say kills their profits.


"There are ways to improve farm policy, if the political will is there," Ferrero said. "But we are not being heard. We are treated by the government as if we don't exist."


A widespread farm rebellion that reduced exports for months and cut into government revenue shook the country in 2008. A repeat of that incident could be in the offing.

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