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Upcoming Argentina farm strike may slow much-needed corn exports
Corn exports from grain powerhouse Argentina may be delayed next week as farmers go on a five-day strike to protest the government's policies, traders said on Wednesday.
The suspension of grain sales would come at the height of the country's corn harvest and at a time when importing countries want Argentina's corn to make up for the poor crop in the United states, the world's largest producer.
During the strike normally busy cargo ships will be anchored along the Argentina's waterways Monday through Wednesday. While the strike will begin on Saturday and Sunday, there will be little initial effect as local grains markets are closed on weekends.
The market is particularly hungry for Argentine corn after a U.S. drought in 2012 dramatically reduced world supply. The strike is also timed to demonstrate the farm sector's muscle to a government increasingly in need of export dollars.
"Flow will be disturbed for three days, but it should catch up soon after," said one Argentina-based grains trader working for a major international export company.
"The strike will cause line-ups at upriver ports," said the trader, who asked not to be identified.
Argentine is the world's No. 3 corn and soybean exporter. Farmers here have harvested 74 percent of their 2012/13 corn and 97 percent of their soybeans, according to Argentine government data released last week. The agriculture ministry expects the country to harvest of 28 million tons corn and 50.6 million of soybeans.
Global importers reliance on South American corn and soybeans has increased this year because U.S. stocks of both commodities are the tightest in years. Late planting in the United States and a likely later-than-normal harvest have increased demand for Argentine and Brazilian crops.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, re-elected in 2011 on promises of deepening government's role in Latin America's No. 3 economy, has long feuded with the country's farm sector.
Growers say their profits have been whittled down to nearly nothing by high taxes and export curbs placed on corn and wheat.
The curbs are meant to ensure ample domestic food supplies but farmers say they distort prices while inflation, fueled by Fernandez's expansive fiscal policies and clocked by private economists at 25 percent, has increased farm production costs.
300 Cargo Ships
"The strike will have an impact on sales but we may see some compensation, in terms of more business than usual, just before and after the protest," said another Buenos Aires-based trading source, who asked not to be named.
Local grain activity will also be slow on Thursday and Friday of next week due to official Argentine holidays. The country is also the world's top supplier of soy oil, used in the booming international biofuels sector, and soymeal animal feed.
"The crushing plants have enough beans to crush during the three days of the strike, but corn export flows will probably be affected," the source said.
On Wednesday, 300 ships were waiting to be loaded with agricultural products, the source said. They were anchored off shore, waiting to enter the country, and at points along the La Plata and Parana rivers, Argentina's main grains thoroughfares.
"If the waiting time of a vessel was planned to be seven to 10 days it could go to 15 days," the source said.
"We have a record line-up of corn vessels this month because of the situation in the United States," he added. "Everybody is trying to push their corn out of Argentina before Brazil's corn crop is harvested in late July and August."
[Source: By Hugh Bronstein, Reuters, Buenos Aires, 13Jun13]
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