Brazil farm belt roads blocked in new trucker strike

Sao Paulo | Reuters — Truckers in Brazil resumed roadblocks across the country’s main farm belt early on Thursday, after failing to reach common ground in talks with the government and freight companies in recent weeks regarding pay and fuel prices.

Highway police on Thursday evening estimated that protesters had blocked roads at 17 points across the region, mainly affecting the movement of soybeans and corn. Those crops are in the final weeks of the main summer harvest.

In early March, truckers had agreed to end a strike that choked off deliveries of food, fuel, exports and industry supplies for more than two weeks. At that time, the number of blockages reached more than 100 points along highways.

Truckers entered talks soon after to try to secure a national scale for freight rates and lower diesel prices. But transport and logistics companies have resisted accepting set rates for freight in negotiations with truckers. The government said it would not lower diesel prices.

Highway operator Rota do Oeste said striking truckers had blocked the movement of cargo on three roads in the main grain state of Mato Grosso, where the company is based, causing mile-long lines of trucks on the sides of roads.

Passenger cars and critical services such as police, fire and ambulances are moving normally through the blockades, with striking truckers typically parked along the shoulder of roads near towns, Rota do Oeste said.

Trucks carrying dry bulk such as soybeans, corn, fertilizer and other non-perishables risk vandalism to their vehicles if they attempt to drive past protest lines.

Across Brazil’s center-south agricultural region, roads in other farm states including Parana and Rio Grande do Sul were also being blocked by protesting truckers.

Representatives from Brazil’s main southern ports said the delivery and loading of grains and dry bulk commodities were not yet affected by the strike and they did not expect an impact unless the strike carried on for several days.

Traders and futures markets have kept cautious watch on negotiations with the truckers, assessing the risk of new disruptions to supplies of sugar, coffee, soybeans, beef and orange juice. Brazil is one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural commodities.

Gustavo Bonato reports on agriculture and agribusiness for Reuters from Sao Paulo. Writing and additional reporting for Reuters by Reese Ewing.

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