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UPDATE 1-Argentine farmers to strike over corn export suspension

(Updates with decision of farm groups to strike beginning Monday)

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Argentine farmers will hold a 72-hour strike from Monday to protest a government decision to temporarily suspend corn exports, three of the country’s main rural associations said Tuesday.

The South American grains powerhouse last week announced a two-month halt in corn exports from the world’s No. 3 supplier in a bid to control domestic food prices amid a long recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Agricultural associations CRA, SRA and CONINAGRO said the measure was “detrimental” both to their interests and those of Argentina, and demanded President Alberto Fernandez immediately review the decision.

The groups said in a statement that barring changes, they would strike from midnight on Monday, Jan. 11 through Wednesday, Jan. 13.

The country’s CEC chamber of export companies said earlier on Tuesday that importers of Argentine corn might reduce their purchases from the country due to “uncertainty” caused by the export halt, leading to long-term damage for the industry.

Farm groups have also spoken out against the suspension, saying it will put downward pressure on production as farmers hold back investments.

The cattle and poultry industry in Argentina uses corn to fatten chickens and cows. The government hopes that by keeping more corn in the country, the cost of feeding livestock will fall, increasing domestic food supplies.

But a joint statement from Argentina’s soy, corn, wheat and sunflower seed associations said such intervention in export markets would erode confidence and lead to an immediate withdrawal of investments.

“We need to show our overseas customers that they can count on us as a reliable supplier,” the statement said.

In announcing the new policy, the government said it wanted to ensure the supply of grain for the production of animal protein such as pork, chicken, eggs, milk and cattle.

Buyers can still book corn from Argentina, but only for shipping after March 1. International sales of farm products are Argentina’s top source of export dollars needed to stabilize the anemic peso currency and help fund coronavirus relief efforts.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath and Hugh Bronstein; writing by Dave Sherwood, editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Pullin

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