Brazil grain exporters seek court help against port strike

Wed Aug 8, 2012 4:40pm EDT

* Port inspectors' strike risk to commods exports

* Exporters turn to court to guarantee flow of goods

SAO PAULO Aug 8 (Reuters) - Brazilian soy and corn exporters are seeking help from the local courts to guarantee clearance documents from striking inspection agents at the country's main ports, the grain exporters association Anec said on Wednesday.

Food inspectors from the agriculture ministry went on strike on Monday over better pay and have so far had only limited effect on the flow of bulk commodities through Brazilian ports, but Anec President Sergio Mendes told Reuters that there are real risks of food commodities exports being held up.

Brazil is the midst of its main soybean export period and is winding down a record corn harvest, which is expected to produce record exports due to the drought over the U.S. farm belt.

The inspectors' strike has already affected the production and transport of cattle, poultry and pork in Brazil's agriculturally rich southeast, where most of the country's ports are located, industry sources said.

"Some companies are warning that if the strike carries on beyond this point, some production lines could have to shut down," Francisco Turra, president of the Brazilian Poultry Association, said.

The union of striking inspectors, who work for the agriculture ministry, said about 30 percent of its members were on the job to guarantee minimum operations. Without clearance from inspectors, no agricultural goods can leave the ports.

So far, no shipments of bulk grains have been held up by the strike.

Brazilian ports are vulnerable to strikes from several groups of government officials whose approval is required for the free flow of trade. Brazil is a leading global supplier of sugar, coffee, soy, corn and meats.

The government, just a couple weeks ago, diffused a national truckers strike that was holding up the movement of goods across Brazil. Nearly 70 percent of all goods here move by truck.

Shipments of manufactured and semi-manufactured goods have suffered more than commodities from the slew of labor protests in recent weeks.

"An inspectors' strike stops a ship from leaving the port. With that kind of strike, you begin to lose face with foreign clients. It's the worst of all the strikes," said Mendes. (Reporting by Gustavo Bonato; Writing by Reese Ewing; Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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