Colombia reaches deal with truckers to lift 45-day strike

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s government and truckers unions reached a deal on Friday to lift a 45-day strike that has snarled coffee exports and pushed up already-high inflation as foodstuff were blocked from moving around the Andean country.

Cyclists are seen near a burning tires during a truckers' strike in Bogota, Colombia, July 20, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

The two sides reached agreement on cargo prices and the gradual removal of old vehicles, ending the longest and most costly strike in Colombian history, but failed to agree on toll road and fuel costs.

“The immobilization of cargo transport has been lifted,” Transport Minister Jorge Eduardo Rojas told reporters.

Trucking union president Orlando Ramirez said the deal “satisfied the needs” of the sector.

One person was killed during clashes, and the governor of Boyaca province was injured in a highway accident that authorities blamed on protesters.

The strike, which began in early June, caused sharp rises in food prices, clogged ports and hit exports of the country’s high-quality arabica coffee.

“The deal is realistic and fair. To have ceded to the unions which backed the strike would have meant a disproportionate and permanent increase in costs for families and a hard hit to the country’s competitiveness,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in a statement.

Coffee growers are already struggling because of a drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, and bracing for coming heavy rains, but the strike may send exports plunging by half in July, the coffee federation told Reuters this month.

High food prices have helped push 12-month inflation to 8.60 percent through June, more than double the central bank’s 2 percent to 4 percent target range.

Trucks blocking highways were impounded and the government revoked the licenses of more than 1,300 drivers and truck owners participating in violent protests, Santos said.

“Investigations and trials will continue so those responsible are rightly sanctioned,” he added.

Colombia has about 330,000 trucks moving imports and exports to and from the Andean country’s ports on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.

Reporting by Helen Murphy, Luis Jaime Acosta; Additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Monica Garcia; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Meredith Mazzilli