Agricultural producers in Argentina began a three-day strike on Monday in rejection of the government’s move to suspend maize exports for the next two months.
The so-called 'paro agrario' went ahead despite a last-minute intervention from the government, which lifted the block and replaced it with a daily sales cap on corn exports as the strike got underway.
The Agriculture, Fisheries & Livestock Ministry said in a statement issued on Sunday at midnight that it was temporarily lifting the controversial suspension, which was due to run until March 1. Instead, officials said they would set a limit of 30,000 tons per day on sales of corn, effectively meaning the government will allow 1.5 million tons of maize to be sold by the end of next month.
Farming lobbies and agricultural producers, however, were unmoved by the dramatic U-turn. The Mesa de Enlace roundtable that brings together the biggest groups representing farmers said that the move was insufficient.
"The measure of force continues. What the government resolved yesterday [on Sunday] is what we asked for, but not with a limit of 30,000 tons per day," said Carlos Achetoni, the president of the Federación Agraria (Agrarian Federation), one of the three groups that backed the strike measures.
Meanwhile, Jorge Chemes, the president of Confederaciones Rurales Argentinas (Argentine Rural Confederations, CRA), slammed the government’s “interventionist idiosyncrasies" on Monday.
"We started the strike and it is developing. This resolution came out after midnight but we need the total elimination" of the measure, he warned.
"The interventionism of the State continues, which is what worries us," he added, charging that the government’s approach to the agricultural sector “clearly shows the government's contempt for the countryside."
Chemes said the government was more interested in "confronting the countryside" than sitting down to discuss policies that would return Argentina to growth.
Three of Argentina’s four main farm groupings agreed to halt grain marketing for 72 hours to protest the Alberto Fernández administration's decision to suspend maize exports. The government announced on January 1 that all licences for corn exports would be suspended for 60 days, saying it wanted to guarantee domestic supplies.
According to the government, the restriction on corn exports – a staple product for several food industries – applies when 89% of all production has already been exported and an exportable balance of about four million tons remains. Agricultural entities, however, say that 8.5 million tons are still up for grabs.
The partial reopening of exports and the setting of an upper daily limit came as a result of negotiations over the weekend with the multi-sectoral Consejo Agroindustrial Argentino (Argentine Agroindustrial Council, CAA), formed by 57 organisations including those who work in industrial, marketing and export sectors, as well as agricultural producers.
"There are 10 million tons [of corn] and a million-and-a-half are needed for internal consumption. The supply is the first thing that has to be guaranteed, but that does not mean that exports have to be shut off," Achetoni said Monday.
Argentina is the world’s third-biggest maize exporter after the United States and Brazil, with its 2018-2019 harvest reaching a record 51.5 million tons in sales abroad. In the framework of a prolonged recession aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, the country depends on its farm exports to obtain hard currency.
Maize prices have been on a sharp rise in recent days. In Chicago, a bushel of corn (about 25 kg, for delivery in March) closed Friday at US$4.96, a rise of 2.58 percent on the previous Monday.