Argentine grain port blocking trucks from entering, shipments unaffected: export chamber

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A key port town in northern Rosario, Argentina’s main grains export hub, was blocking trucks from entering town on Friday in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, though the local export chamber said shipments were not yet unaffected.

The Timbues government announced on its website earlier this week that “all commercial, industrial and port activities” would be suspended in the town beginning Thursday to combat the epidemic.

Timbues is one of three main port towns in the Rosario area, along with Puerto General San Martin and San Lorenzo. Together they handle nearly 80% of Argentina’s primary and agricultural exports, including soybeans, oil and meal.

“The Timbues terminals are operating normally, but the trucks aren’t coming in,” Gustavo Idígoras, president of the CIARA-CEC chamber of grain processors, told Reuters. He said the local measures contradicted those issued by the federal government on Thursday, which called for a mandatory quarantine but exempted key agricultural export operations.

Global commodities giants including Cofco and Louis Dreyfus, as well as local companies Oils General Deheza (AGD) and ACA, have their own terminals in Timbues. Many maintain reserves at key terminals so can continue to export even if access to the port is blocked.

An Argentine government source who asked not to be identified told Reuters authorities were negotiating with provincial officials to defuse tensions at Timbues. “(The measure) is not justified ... and it’s not helping,” the source said.

Reuters was unable to reach Timbues or regional authorities for comment.

The disruptions come at a time when the export season is not yet in full swing. Argentine farmers have just started harvesting corn and the soybean harvest will begin in the coming weeks.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Tom Brown and Daniel Wallis