Grains supply to Argentine export hub normalizing after truckers strike - sources

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Delivery of grains and oilseeds to Argentine export hub Rosario was slowly returning to normal on Monday after a week of protests by truckers who blocked roads leading from the farm belt to port, two industry sources told Reuters.

Drivers are demanding a review of their costs, including tolls, insurance rates, taxes and fuel prices.

They were scheduled to meet with Sergio Massa, president of the lower House of Congress, to discuss their demands while the government news site Telam reported a delay in a proposed fuel tax increase. Both gestures appeared to help calm tensions, although the protest continued in areas outside of Rosario.

Only 1,524 trucks entered port facilities on Monday, down from 2,224 on the same day a year earlier, according to Argentine logistics firm AgroEntregas, showing a steep decline.

“The level of trucks should be more than 2,500 now but it is increasing slowly,” said an export industry source who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.

“The truck drivers reduced the flow of grains last week. We hope to normalize it this week,” the source added.

Truck owners and drivers, grouped in the informal TUDA association (Transportistas Unidos de Argentina), began blocking highways about a week ago, adding uncertainty to a sector that was hit by several port workers’ strikes last month.

TUDA driver and spokesman Santiago Carlucci told local media that some roadblocks remained but that the highways closest to Rosario, which sends about 80% of the country’s agricultural exports, had been cleared of protests.

Uncertainty about agricultural commodities supply from the world’s No. 3 corn exporter and No. 1 supplier of soymeal livestock feed had added upward pressure to benchmark corn and soy prices on the Chicago Board of Trade.

“They have ended all road blocks in Santa Fe,” said another high-level ports source, referring to the province where Rosario is located. “Truck traffic is normalizing.”

The government has an acute need for export dollars as it tries to provide relief to people thrown out of work by COVID-19 lockdown measures that started in March. Those measures have been partially relaxed but the economy remains in recession.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Dan Grebler