Chile trucker strike snarls shipments of salmon, fruit and grain

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A strike by Chile truckers is hitting exports of salmon, fruit, meat and wine from the South American food producer to the United States, Europe and Asia, trade groups told Reuters on Tuesday.

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The week-long standoff has created port backlogs, raising the risk of food price spikes and fuel shortages in some regions. A port official said almost no export shipments were leaving as scheduled.

“There is practically no Chilean cargo that can leave or with the loads that should be leaving,” said Carlos Mondaca, a spokesman for San Antonio port, one of the country’s two largest.

Chile’s fruit exporters association (ASOEX) said it had six ships due to set sail this week for the United States, Europe and Hong Kong with kiwi, apples, pears and citrus but it was struggling to get the produce to the port.

Industry group Salmon Chile said it was struggling to obtain products needed for its processing plants and send fresh fish to the capital Santiago. The blockades could soon start to affect exports from sea and airports, President Arturo Clement told trade publication Salmon Expert.

The operators of San Antonio port also said 290,000 tonnes of grains were sitting in eight ships waiting to be unloaded onto trucks but none were available.

The strike began last Thursday when the Confederation of Chilean Cargo Transport (CNTC), one of three truckers’ confederations mobilized over a spike in attacks on truckers in south-central Araucania region and the slow track of security reforms through Congress.

The region has long been convulsed by a simmering conflict between the indigenous Mapuche and the Chilean state.

On Monday, talks between the truckers and the government broke down, with government threatening to invoke a state security law to penalise those blocking roads.

Early on Tuesday morning, a 55-year-old trucker taking part in the strike was run over and killed by a lorry carrying medication in the southern Maule region, according to police.

A video circulated on social media apparently showing striking truck drivers enjoying a nighttime party and dancing with two women wearing lingerie on a highway hard shoulder also sparked further fury among Chileans divided over whether the strike methods are justified.

Jaime Bellolio, a government spokesman, on Tuesday said the truckers must stand down rather than threatening critical supply chains as the country struggles to restart its economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Chile’s largest salmon markets are the United States, Japan and Brazil. The $16 billion Chilean fruit industry is one of the southern hemisphere’s largest.

Reporting by Aislinn Laing, Natalia Ramos and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Lisa Shumaker