RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – (REUTERS) Grain exports from Argentina were likely to be affected by a seven-hour strike by customs officers on Tuesday, as the officials press for priority access to coveted COVID-19 vaccinations, the port manager said on Monday.
“It seems that it is going to affect all exports of all ports in Argentina,” Guillermo Wade, manager of the Chamber of Port and Maritime Activities (CAPyM), told Reuters.
Tugboat captains similarly walked off the job last month to pressure the government into giving them vaccines, as the South American grains powerhouse gets hit by a second wave of infections at the height of soy and corn harvesting season.
Argentina is the world’s No. 3 exporter of corn and its top supplier of soymeal livestock feed used to fatten hogs and poultry from Europe to Southeast Asia. The South American grains powerhouse also exports wheat, mostly to neighboring Brazil.
“Customs officers need to be present for import and export operations, so we hope this will be solved,” Wade added.
Such a short work stoppage was not expected to have a major impact on shipments from Argentina. But shipments could get bogged down if longer strikes are called.
Citing lack of progress in negotiations with the government over access to vaccines, the Argentine Union of Customs Personnel said in a statement on Friday that the strike will happen in the middle of the work day on Tuesday.
“Depending on the result, union actions may intensify after Tuesday,” the labor organization said. A spokesman for the customs union was not available for comment on Monday.
Exports from Argentina’s Pampas grains belt are the country’s top source of export dollars needed to help fund the government’s COVID-19 relief efforts as the country wrestles its way out of an economic recession that started in 2018.
More than 81,000 people in Argentina have died of COVID-19. Citing the recent uptick in cases and deaths, Argentina’s SOEA oilseeds workers union has threatened to walk out on Wednesday.
“If by June 9 our colleagues do not begin to be vaccinated, the only alternative that we will have left to be heard, will be to carry out direct union action,” SOEA said. (Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Maximilian Heath Editing by Marguerita Choy)