Argentine government seeks end to port strike

Argentina's government is trying to mediate an end to a week-long strike that has paralyzed grains exports, a high-level official said on Tuesday.

Argentine government seeks end to port strike

Argentina's government is trying to mediate an end to a week-long strike that has paralyzed grains exports, sparked supply worries and sent soy prices higher, a high-level official said on Tuesday.

"I've spoken with the companies and I'm talking all the time with the (labor representatives). This issue worries us and I'm trying to put my shoulder to it to find a way to move forward," Planning Minister Julio De Vido told Reuters as he left a biofuels industry meeting.

A port workers cooperative demanding that rates to load ships be as much as doubled began a strike last week which extended on Monday to most terminals in three ports near Rosario, 500 km (310 miles) north of the capital, which export the bulk of Argentina's soy.

Argentina is the world's third biggest soy exporter and the top provider of soy derivatives. The protests came at the beginning of the current soy harvest and have halted an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes of grains and soy derivative shipments a day.

Negotiations between the two sides were at an impasse, a source for the private port operators group told Reuters on the condition he not be named.

"No one knows" how long the conflict will go on. Everything is the same. (The ports) are totally blocked. There hasn't been any meeting, any approach ... The raise they are asking for is exorbitant" he said.

A union leader did not answer repeated calls on Tuesday.

Soy prices up slightly 

Soy futures prices at the Chicago Board of Trade for May delivery rose 1 cent to $9.68-1/2 per bushel, bolstered by the Argentine strike. But price gains were limited by other factors including expectations of a large U.S. soybean crop this year.

Local newspapers reported that the powerful leader of Argentina's biggest trade union federation will get involved when and if talks are held to end the strike.

Hugo Moyano, secretary general of the CGT union umbrella group, will join efforts to settle the dispute between the Port Workers Cooperative, the United Syndicate of Argentine Port Workers and grains exports companies, El Cronista newspaper reported.

Moyano is a major ally of the government of President Cristina Fernandez, but in recent months unions in his federation have pressured for large raises as inflation spikes in Argentina.

Striking workers were blocking access to most terminals at three ports, San Martin, San Lorenzo and Timbues, all in the area around Rosario. Grains trucks were lined up outside the ports.

A grains trader in Rosario, who asked not to be named, said "things are the same or worse" as on Monday.

A union source said on Monday that workers were waiting for word from the companies before they sit down for talks. But an industry source said port companies were waiting for the union to respond to their latest offer, which was for a 25 percent increase in rates this year and 15 percent next year.

Record soy harvest seen 

Argentina is forecast to produce a record harvest of more than 53 million tonnes of soy this year, and hopes of sharing in the bounty is motivating the strikers.

Brief port strikes are common at the beginning of the soy harvest, but this was turning into the most serious one in some years, affecting terminals belonging to Bunge and Aceitera General Deheza, Cargill, Toepfer, Nidera, Dreyfus, Minera La Alumbrera and Noble.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that Argentina will account for about 49 percent of global soymeal exports in the 2009/10 season (October-September). The country is forecast to export 26.95 million tonnes, a major share of global exports totaling 55.01 million tonnes.

A U.S. soymeal export trader said the strike had not yet prompted any importers to switch their purchases from Argentina to the United States.

"But if the strike continues into next week, we might see a couple of cargoes of 25,000 tonnes each being switched to the U.S.," he said, declining to be identified.

He also said exporters, to his knowledge, had not declared force majeure yet, but that would be likely if the strike continues into next week.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Mart 2010, 23:06
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