Argentine Farmers to Suspend Strike

By: Debora Rey
By: Debora Rey

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentine farmers announced plans Monday to suspend a 13-day strike and resume grain sales, paving the way for talks with the government to end contentious export restrictions.

Farmers will resume shipments of wheat, soybeans, sunflower seeds and other grains beginning Wednesday at midnight (0300 GMT), said Mario Llambias, head of the Confederation of Rural Argentine producers.

The coming truce promises another lull in an on-again, off-again battle between the government and farmers, who have bitterly protested increased export taxes for weeks.

President Cristina Fernandez imposed the measure in mid-March, raising export duties on soybeans from 35 percent to as high as 45 percent. Similar increases were tacked onto other grains in a bid to boost the nation's tax revenue while world commodity prices are high.

Argentina is the world's second-largest exporter of corn and third-largest of soy, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Farm leaders on Monday said they expected talks to resume shortly with Fernandez's government, which had vowed not to negotiate until growers ended their ban on grain sales.

"We hope the government won't disappoint us," protest leader Eduardo Buzzi said.

The protest has deprived the government of increased tax income, but has not caused renewed food shortages, as many had feared. Farmers blockaded key highways for 21 days in March, causing stores in Buenos Aires and other cities to run low on staples like beef and vegetables.

Fernandez called for unity in a conciliatory speech last week, but offered no specific proposal. Her office did not immediately react late Monday to news of the strike's suspension.

Her government has refused to re-examine farmer's central demand that it roll back soybean export taxes and other restrictions. The farmbelt rebellion is the first large domestic crisis to confront Fernandez's five-month-old government and triggered the recent departure of her first economy minister.

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