Argentine grains truck traffic grinds to a halt as strike hardens

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BUENOS AIRES, April 12 (Reuters) - Argentine truck owners extended a grains transport strike on Tuesday, bringing grains haulage traffic to a virtual halt at the peak of the harvest season in the world's leading exporter of processed soy and number two shipper of corn.

The protest, demanding higher freight rates as inflation spirals, started on Monday, leaving important roadways for carrying grains for producers to the ports without the normal jam of trucks which occurs every year from around April.

The indefinite strike has not yet hit exports because the ports have large stored reserves of grains, but a prolongation of the protest could start to affect shipments. About 85% of Argentina's grain is transported around the country by truck.

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"We will come out of the strike with a new rate schedule. Otherwise we won't come out of the strike at all," Pablo Agolanti, vice president of the Federation of Argentine Carriers (FETRA), told Reuters.

The country's transport ministry in a statement called for a meeting on Wednesday at 10:00 local time (1300 GMT) to continue the "dialogue" with the truckers.

Regarding the impact of the protest, local agricultural logistics company AgroEntregas said that "there is no truck movement" towards the port terminals. Its data showed just 57 grains trucks entering ports, down from over 6,000 on April 9.

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A grains port sector source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that ships were currently loading normally due to the reserves, but that "within a few days commitments could be affected" if things did not change.

FETRA is demanding an increase in grain rates that were agreed with the government and agricultural associations at the beginning of February, due to a spike in fuel prices. It also wants assured supply of fuel amid worries over diesel supply.

Argentina is suffering from inflation running annually above 50%, which has been sharpened further by the war in Ukraine causing global supply bottlenecks.

The country's farmers are currently harvesting soybeans and corn for the 2021/22 cycle, with production of the two grains estimated by the Buenos Aires grains exchange at 42 million tonnes and 49 million tonnes respectively.

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Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Aurora Ellis

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