By Javier Castro Bugarin
Buenos Aires, Jul 13 (EFE).- Argentina’s four main farm associations halted their activities on Wednesday in protest over the policies of President Alberto Fernandez’s administration.
The strike comes amid a challenging economic climate marked by fuel shortages in some regions and difficulties in importing fertilizer.
As part of their job action, the farm groups that make up the Mesa de Enlace (Liaison Committee) halted grain and livestock trading for 24 hours and organized a series of protests centered on Gualeguaychu, a city in the eastern province of Entre Rios.
“We’ve yet to see a single public policy for our sector. In Argentina, seven of every 10 dollars generated today (from exports) comes from the farm sector. We’re part of the solution to the problems the country has,” the president of the Argentine Rural Society (SRA), Nicolas Pino, told Efe prior to an assembly with other association leaders in Gualeguaychu.
In its fourth strike since Fernandez took office in December 2019, the Mesa de Enlace is pressing a series of demands related to fuel shortages, the high price of diesel and difficulties in obtaining key imports – especially fertilizers.
No road blockades were installed in this latest protest, which also is bringing attention to broader sector concerns such as export tariffs and economic policies the groups say are hindering their industry’s development.
Pino said the situation would improve if measures were put in place to boost farm-sector production and growth.
The SRA president, for example, called for ending a dual exchange rate “that destroys the competitiveness of exports,” though adding that a peso devaluation is not necessarily the answer.
“There’s a historic opportunity today in the world because of the war (in Ukraine). We have to take advantage of it so the farm sector generates more raw materials and food,” Pino said, urging steps that “create employment, develop the interior and promote a sense of belonging in the provinces.”
Protests have been staged in different parts of the country, particularly in Argentina’s interior provinces.
They have been a vehicle for expressing anti-government sentiment at a time of internal tensions that led to the resignation of Martin Guzman as economy minister in early July.
Guzman was replaced by Silvina Batakis, a leftist economist who thus far has not calmed market anxieties.
FARM SECTOR SITUATION
Wednesday’s protests are occurring at a time of high expectations for the farm sector.
According to the latest projections by the Rosario Board of Trade, a forum for trade negotiations in grain, oilseed and other markets, the value of exports of agro-industrial products will total around $41.3 billion in 2022, up $3.2 billion from last year.
Those figures confirm the sector’s status as Argentina’s main source of hard currency.
The main farm export products, according to these forecasts, will be soy derivatives (projected to be valued at $23.7 billion this year), corn ($9.6 billion) and wheat ($4.5 billion).
But fuel shortages dating back to mid-March and the creation of a wheat trust to control prices of that grain have angered a sector long critical of this century’s Kirchnerist (neo-Peronist) governments.