Wed, May 21, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Argentine farmers announce possible end to strikes

AP , BUENOS AIRES

A depiction of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is seen in the stubble of a soybean field in Parana, Entre Rios, Argentina, on Monday, amid a crippling strike after one month of talks with the government to roll back a stiff tax hike on soy bean exports.

PHOTO: AFP

Argentine farmers announced plans on Monday to suspend a 13-day strike and resume grain sales, paving the way for talks with the government to end contentious export restrictions.

Farmers will resume shipments of wheat, soybeans, sunflower seeds and other grains beginning today at midnight, said Mario Llambias, head of the Confederation of Rural Argentine producers.

The coming truce promises another lull in an on-again, off-again battle between the government and farmers, who have bitterly protested increased export taxes for weeks.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez imposed the measure in the middle of March, raising export duties on soybeans from 35 percent to as high as 45 percent.

Similar increases were tacked onto other grains in a bid to boost the nation’s tax revenue while world commodity prices are high.

Argentina is the world’s second-largest exporter of corn and third-largest of soy, the US Department of Agriculture said.

Farm leaders on Monday said that they expected talks would resume shortly with Fernandez’s government, which had vowed not to negotiate until growers ended their ban on grain sales.

“We hope the government won’t disappoint us,” protest leader Eduardo Buzzi said.

The protest has deprived the government of increased tax income, but has not caused renewed food shortages, as many had feared.

Farmers blockaded key highways for 21 days in March, causing stores in Buenos Aires and other cities to run low on staples like beef and vegetables.

Fernandez called for unity in a conciliatory speech last week, but offered no specific proposal.

Her office did not immediately react late on Monday to news that the strike would be suspended.

Her government has refused to re-examine farmer’s central demand that it roll back soybean export taxes and other restrictions.

The farmbelt rebellion is the first large domestic crisis to confront Fernandez’s five-month-old government and triggered the recent departure of her first economy minister.

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