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ECONOMY | 24-03-2020 10:59

Virus hobbles Argentina's biggest soy exporters – with harvest nearing

The world’s biggest exporters of soybean meal and oil are fending off a slew of logistical hurdles as they rush to get ready for the impending harvest in Argentina.

The world’s biggest exporters of soybean meal and oil are fending off a slew of logistical hurdles as they rush to get ready for the impending harvest in Argentina.

For the Latin American nation’s soy industry, it’s the toughest start to a harvest in recent memory. Farmers and exporters are bidding to crush beans and ship tens of millions of metric tons of meal and oil at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting food-supply chains across the globe.

Argentina is in a nationwide lockdown until the end of the month to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus. While farmers and crop exporters can continue to work, the stay-at-home order means everyone from trade-union leaders to town mayors is looking for assurances that exempt industries and workers are safe.

“Of course we’re scared that grain terminals will be affected, but we’re taking every measure to be able to operate normally,” said Gustavo Idigoras, president of crop crushing and export group Ciara-Cec.

The group’s members include the so-called 'ABCD' giants of agricultural trading.

The latest spoke in exporters’ wheels comes from around 70 municipalities on the Pampas arable belt that aren’t letting farmers load their harvests onto trucks that supply ports, Idigoras said.

Exporters will help farm leaders fight that battle just hours after they managed to resolve another feud with a mayor. He’d stopped trucks from supplying four major terminals on the Paraná River, including the world’s biggest soy-crushing plant, a joint venture between Glencore Plc and local partner Vicentin SAIC.

The problems keep building.

A union representing about 7,000 soy crushers may also strike if exporters and ports don’t take sufficient action to ensure the health of workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

The threat comes after a March 20 strike by a union of grain inspectors was thwarted at the last minute when the government called for talks. Inspectors, pointing to the fact that ports are especially at risk of contagion, want restrictions to safeguard their health.

Exporters have already put in place government protocols and their own procedures to protect workers from Covid-19 at ports and grain elevators, according to Ciara-Cec.

There have been other issues, too. Bulk carriers for a while couldn’t get clearance to dock at ports, and stevedores briefly abandoned their posts last week, said Guillermo Wade, manager of port and maritime chamber CAPyM, which overseas operations on the Paraná River.

“It’s been a marathon of problems,” Wade said.

by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg

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