Fuel, dairy products, beef in short supply in Argentine cities

Several Argentine towns experienced a shortage of fuel, dairy products, beef and fresh produce on Friday due to road blockades set up by truck drivers protesting a farmers' strike, dpa reported.

The farmers have been protesting new agricultural tarriffs, and their move sparked protests by drivers suffering from a lack of products to transport.

Farmers' leaders met on Friday to discuss ending their protest earlier than its planned Sunday conclusion in order to avoid an escalation of the conflict, Argentine media reported.

A group of Asian supermarket operators, who control a broad range of medium-sized shops, reported that national staple beef, vegetables, fruit and milk are not being delivered to shops, and warned that there could be no supply at all after the weekend.

Large supermarket chains opted to restrict the quantity of products sold, given the difficulty of refilling their shelves.

No diesel or petrol were being delivered to petrol stations in Buenos Aires province outside the immediate Buenos Aires metropolitan area.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner strongly criticized farmers for their protest that has been going on since March.

"I wonder what worker, what trader, what businessman however large can stop working for 90 days. Only one that has accumulated great wealth, great riches. The rest have to get out to work," she said.

Agricultural leaders called the comments a provocation, and stressed that they are still working and are only blocking some forms of activity.

The crisis in Argentina's powerful farming sector has been brewing since March, when an increase in export tariffs for soybeans and sunflower went into effect, tying tariffs to international market prices.

The average tariff was increased from 35 to 41 per cent and would apply to almost all of the surplus if the price for soybeans were to rise above 600 dollars a tonne, although the government has since modified this to set a tax ceiling.

The positions of the government and agricultural producers have remained far apart.

In March, a complete blockade of agricultural production caused severe food shortages in large urban areas and provoked traffic problems. In April, farmers opted to block the export of cereal and other key products, like soybeans.

In their third protest, farmers again took to the roads last week. Although their leaders asked that they not disturb traffic, the passage of trucks carrying agricultural produce was blocked in some areas.

In a strike that was set to end Monday but was prolonged until the end of the week, farmers were blocking the sale of cereal and oil- based crops for export. They however allowed the sale of cattle for meat beginning on Tuesday, to prevent shortages in the internal market.

Cereal transport trucks have since Monday blockaded roads in the central provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Cordoba and Entre Rios - in the so-called Wet Pampa - amid great tension with farmers protesting on the side of roads.

Drivers were protesting the lack of work in recent months. However, many observers interpreted their move as a government- sponsored measure. The truck-drivers' union is led by Pablo Moyano, the son of the pro-Kirchner General Workers' Union (CGT) Hugo Moyano.

Two million tonnes of cereal are currently awaiting shipment in Santa Fe's ports. Some 27 ships are waiting to be loaded, Argentine media reported.

Further, some 97 per cent of the soybean crop - the main crop cultivated by Argentine farmers, with some 48 million tonnes expected this year - has been harvested. Almost all of it is destined for export markets, but producers were holding on to their produce in the face of the conflict.

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