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UPDATE 1-Road block protests disrupt Argentine grains export operations

(Adds statement from agricultural export groups, international grains market context)

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Argentine agricultural exports were disrupted on Wednesday as truckers blocked roads around the Buenos Aires ports of Bahia Blanca and Quequen and authorities cleared roads near the main export hub of Rosario.

Concern over the road blocks still meant reduced numbers of cargoes arrived at Rosario, raising doubts about future shipping flows from the hub that ships some 80% of Argentina’s grains exports.

Chambers representing the soy, corn and wheat industries in Argentina issued a joint statement asking the national government to come up with a solution to the drivers’ demands.

Inflation-hit truck drivers are pressing demands for lower taxes, tolls and fuel prices as well as the establishment of set fee schedules to be paid by farmers for ground transportation. Mired in recession since 2018, Argentina had more than 36% inflation last year and 4% in December alone.

“The protests will be toughened. Road blocks are going to increase nationally,” Santiago Carlucci, head of the informal Tuda (Transportistas Unidos de Argentina) drivers’ group, told local radio.

A tweet from cargo logistics company Agroentregas said 2,065 trucks arrived at grains terminals in Rosario and northern Buenos Aires province on Wednesday, down from 3,995 arrivals a year earlier.

Fear of getting stopped at a road block kept many non-protesting drivers off the road, it said.

“Today there was an attempt to block access to ports and they were removed immediately,” said Guillermo Wade, head of the Chamber of Port and Maritime Activities (CAPyM), referring to security forces in Santa Fe province, where Rosario is located.

Uncertainty about agricultural commodities supply from the world’s No. 3 corn exporter and No. 1 supplier of soymeal livestock feed has pushed Chicago Board of Trade corn prices to near 7-1/2 year highs, with soybeans exploring 6-1/2 year highs.

Tuda drivers started protests last month.

“Argentina needs the state to urgently arbitrate a resolution to this situation, which is putting grains supply at risk,” said the statement from the grains industry chambers.

“We have gone through almost 20 days of a transportation strike that has paralyzed the highways, delayed travelers, industries, markets and ports. Argentina cannot in times of Covid absorb a suspension of this magnitude,” it added.

Transportation companies were set to meet with government officials on Thursday to start trying to find a solution. The informally organized Tuda group has no legal standing to represent drivers at the meeting. (Reporting by Maximilian Heath and Hugh Bronstein; additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Barbara Lewis and Grant McCool)

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