Port strikes keep up disruptions in Argentina

Strikes by crop inspectors and maritime workers are prolonging disruptions at grain terminals in Argentina, keeping soy traders alert even as other protests from oilseed crushers have abated.

Grain inspectors have been picketing at port entrances as part of a strike over pay that’s now lasted a month. The strikes have snarled shipments, affecting powerhouse agricultural traders like Cargill Inc and Bunge Ltd and rallying markets to multi-year highs. Argentina is the world’s biggest exporter of soy meal, which goes into feed for livestock, and soy oil used in cooking and biofuels.

Several other unions are continuing strikes, including tugboat pilots who help berth ships, and maritime pilots who navigate them through local waters. Talks between companies and the inspectors and the maritime unions resumed on Wednesday, so far without any resolution, Guillermo Wade, manager of the CAPyM port chamber, said from Rosario.

A three-week strike by soy crushers, also over pay, ended December 29, taming a rally in soy meal and oil futures. At its height, more than 160 ships were affected. Today that number is lower, but it’s difficult to provide a precise estimate because congestion is delaying cargo-loading, according to Buenos Aires-based shipping agency NABSA.

Trade unions in Argentina remain strong, thanks to the Peronist political movement that took back power last year. Wage bargaining across a slew of industries is fierce, with inflation running at 36 percent.

Soybean futures in Chicago touched a six-year high on Wednesday, and are up 17 percent since strikes were announced on November 30.

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by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg

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