Argentine truckers end strike, freeing China-bound barley

Canada, France would have been buyers' Plan B

Buenos Aires | Reuters — Argentine truckers ended a 20-day strike that had blocked access to ports in Buenos Aires province, agricultural industry sources said on Tuesday, following a deal struck with local officials to increase freight-hauling rates.

Trucks owners grouped in the informal TUDA association (Transportistas Unidos de Argentina) began blocking highways last month, making it particularly hard for barley to reach export terminals in the Buenos Aires port of Necochea.

“There were two China-bound Panamax vessels at Necochea port waiting to load. The buyers were worried because they need malting barley by the end of February,” said Argentine barley market consultant Agustin Baque.

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“If the strike continued, the buyers would have had to switch to another supplier, like Canada or France,” he said.

China is scooping up millions of tonnes of barley from France, Canada and Argentina to feed livestock, as shipments from China’s usual barley supplier, Australia, have fallen victim to a trade fight between the two countries.

The Argentine drivers were protesting what they called high taxes and highway tolls, as well as low pay and fast-rising fuel costs in the inflation-racked country. TUDA spokesman Santiago Carlucci told local media that the protest had ended.

He could not be reached for comment, but the CIARA chamber of export companies and the Bahia Blanca grains exchange confirmed that the protest had ended.

Argentina’s main agricultural export hub of Rosario was not heavily affected by the truckers’ protest. Local authorities in Rosario did not allow strikers to block roads near the city.

Most of Argentina’s corn and soy, the country’s top two cash crops, are shipped from Rosario. The barley belt is in southern Buenos Aires province, far from Rosario, making Bahia Blanca and Quequen Argentina’s main transit points for the grain.

The strike started bogging down operations at the port on Jan. 19, said Eugenia Rul, head analyst at the Bahia Blanca grains exchange.

“In the affected period, 388 trucks entered the port, equivalent to approximately 11,640 tonnes of grain. In the same period last year, 7,654 trucks entered port carrying 229,620 tonnes. The drop was 95 per cent,” she said.

— Reporting for Reuters by Hugh Bronstein and Maximilian Heath.

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