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Argentina farmers end strike, meet with govt

world Updated: Feb 25, 2009 11:27 IST

Farm unions ended a five day strike on Tuesday and sat down with government officials for the first time in a nearly year long struggle over export taxes farmers say, together with a drought, are choking off their profits.

"At last, we can say that a new period of talks has begun, with some partial results in wheat, dairy products, eliminating (export) taxes and beef subsidies. But we still don't agree on soybean and sunflower seed," said strike leader Eduardo Buzzi.

He and other farm union leaders met for more than four hours with Production Minister Debora Giorgi and other government officials.

The strike which began on Friday brought Argentina's countryside to a standstill, drying up deliveries to the all important beef market in Buenos Aires.

However, it did not lead to any food shortages in the capital or elsewhere in the country.

The strike was a shadow of last year's farm stoppages in March and July that emptied supermarket shelves and were accompanied by large demonstrations opposing a rise in farm export taxes, especially on soybean, Argentina's chief crop.

Some 250,000 farmers are complaining that the heavy taxes 35 per cent for soybeans and between 20 and 35 per cent for other grain products are hurting farmers and ranchers already affected by the most devastating drought in 50 years.

President Cristina Kirchner, who inherited the farming strife from her predecessor and husband Nestor, has refused to scale back export taxes saying it would deplete government coffers and has accused the opposition of stoking the fire.

Kirchner on Tuesday came down hard on the strikers and echoed her past criticism of farmers she believes are making excessive profits.

"There's not a single sector in our economy that today can have the luxury of saying, 'I won't sell my products,' except those who have made great profits,"

The farming struggle last year felled Kirchner's popularity from 55 per cent to 20 per cent in July and led to a defeat in parliament of further tax hike measures. It will likely have a major role to play in upcoming legislative election in October.

Argentina a top supplier of wheat, corn, beef and soybeans exports around 35 billion dollars of food produce a year, providing more than 50 per cent of foreign sales in the South American country.