Brazil truck strike begins to bite, talks planned

Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:26pm EDT

* Strike effects on exports still limited

* Truckers' blockage affecting local food markets

* Strike starts to raise concerns over food prices

* Union set to meet with transport ministry in afternoon

By Reese Ewing

SAO PAULO, July 31 (Reuters) - Brazilian truckers, on strike for seven days, are set to meet with transport minister on Tuesday afternoon, a meeting that could end the work stoppage that has begun to disrupt the flow of goods in the country's heavily populated southeast,

Truckers are protesting the government's move in June to require drivers to rest at least 10 to 12 hours a day, as an attempt to reduce accidents and improve road safety.

Several thousand members of the MUBC Brazilian truckers union then began blocking federal highways.

While a national truckers strike a decade ago forced the government to send in the army after it choked off supplies to grocery stores and filing stations, the current labor action is more isolated.

But it is beginning to pinch local businesses.

The strike has restricted bird feed supplies to poultry producers as well as the transporting of animals, said Ubabef, Brazil's poultry producers association. That highlights the risks that a prolonged strike could drive up local food prices.

In southern Rio de Janeiro state, trucks had totally blocked traffic over the weekend in one direction on the Dutra, Brazil's most important commercial corridor between Rio and Sao Paulo. Police said they have since moved trucks to the shoulder, which allowed the flow of cars and emergency vehicles to resume.

Strikers have also stopped the flow of trucks on several highways in Brazil's southern states of Santa Catarina, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, all of which are big poultry, pork and grain producers.

"This is going to start effecting exports. The main roads in the state are open but there is too much disruption on the secondary highways in the south and north," said a logistics manager at a grains broker in the state of Parana.

So far, the main southern ports of Paranagua and Santos have reported no holdups in the flow of bulk commodities to foreign markets. Brazil is a leading source for the world's coffee, sugar, soy, corn, meats and orange juice.

Truckers trying to pass the pickets on the highways have reported strikers hurling rocks at them, police said.

Distributors of produce in the main urban centers of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo reported delivery delays, which could put pressure on local food prices.

Brazil's government only recently has managed to bring consumer inflation under control after closing 2011 at the top limit of the central bank target of 6.5 percent annually.

The MUBC said union leaders will meet with Transport Minister Paulo Passos Tuesday afternoon to ask the government to rescind the new regulations.

The MUBC says that there is insufficient infrastructure that would allow truckers to rest along the country's highways when necessary.

Brazil has also faced strikes over the past months from health and customs inspectors at its main southern ports, which has until now had only limited effect on the flow of commodity shipments. Exporters have gone to the local courts to get around the strikers and secure clearance documents. (Additional reporting by Roberto Samora; Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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