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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ruralists threaten to repeat strike

Ruralists threatened to repeat a strike that has paralyzed grain sales this week in one of the world's biggest food providers.

Farmers, who have been at odds with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for years, halted sales of corn, wheat and soy this week to protest a system of export quotas that they say allows buyers to pay them low prices.

A wave of farmer strikes helped drive global grains prices to record highs in 2008, but this week's protest has had little impact because soy and corn harvesting has yet to begin. Supply concerns could grow if the strike, due to last until midnight on Sunday, is extended.

Mario Llambías, who heads one of the four farm associations leading the strike, called for growers to monitor the prices being paid in the local wheat market over the coming days before deciding whether to call another halt on grains sales.

"If the market doesn't get back to normal, we will call another commercial strike," Llambías told ruralists gathered at a rally in the port city of Bahía Blanca, which lies at the heart of the country's wheat belt in southern Buenos Aires province.

If the ruralists' demands are not resolved, leaders of the groups will meet this weekend to decide whether to plan further protests.

The farmers' commercial strike comes nine months before a presidential election in which Fernández de Kirchner is expected to seek re-election.

A series of protests by farmers in 2008 diminished her popularity, rocked local financial markets and disrupted the nation's multibillion-dollar grains shipments at the height of the soy harvest.

Ruralists have quarrelled with the government for years over corn and wheat export curbs, which the centre-left administration uses to tame double-digit inflation and guarantee affordable supplies of everyday staples.

Farmers say the system of export quotas lets millers and exporters pay farmers below the international price by sapping competition in the local market.

Planning Minister Julio De Vido told local newspaper farmers had enjoyed "a spectacular 2010 in great part thanks to the policies of Agriculture Minister Julián Domínguez."

But some farmers criticize Domínguez for being unable to dictate policy for the sector. They say the agriculture minister's efforts are hampered by the government's inflation watchdog, Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno.

 

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Tags:  ruralists  cristina fernández de kirchner  strike  grain sales  quotas  moreno  julián domínguez  





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