Argentina’s farmers renew protest of export taxes

Argentine farmers rallied at demonstrations across the country’s agricultural belt Dec. 10, demanding further cuts in export taxes as global prices plummet for soy and other products.

The protest is the latest in a long-running dispute between the centre-left government and farmers angry over a host of issues, including curbs on beef exports, price caps on domestic prices for some goods and export taxes.

Argentina is one of the world’s top exporters of soy, corn and beef, but the recent slide in global commodity prices has left many farmers worried about the sector’s profitability.

“The situation is extremely grave,” said Pablo Orsolini, vice-president of the Argentine Agrarian Federation, one of the country’s four leading farm groups.

Earlier this year, farmers staged a four-month wave of strikes and protests against a tax hike on soy and slowing economic growth, handing President Cristina Fernandez her toughest political challenge since she took office last year.

The government was eventually forced to roll back the increase, which it defended as a way to cool rising domestic food prices, after the bill was defeated in Congress.

Since then, farmers have continued to press their calls for changes in farm policy, urging the government to slash export taxes as global grains prices have fallen. “We’re trying to ensure that producers don’t disappear,” Orsolini said.

Fernandez recently cut taxes on corn and wheat taxes as part of a wider economic stimulus plan aimed at bolstering exports.

The move reduced export levies by five percentage points, bringing the export duty on corn to 20 per cent and wheat to 23 per cent. But farmers claim the cut didn’t go far enough.

Fernandez kept a 35 per cent levy on soy exports in place, angering farmers who point to a near 50 per cent drop in global soy prices after they reached record highs in July.

Orsolini said farmers were mulling whether to launch a renewed strike in the coming months if the government doesn’t make any additional policy changes.

“In the first months of next year, we believe we may have to go back on strike again,” he said.

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