Argentine Farmers Hopeful On Government Relations

The death last week of powerful former president Nestor Kirchner may mark a turning point in the government’s relations with Argentine farming groups, but farmers do not expect export tax cuts.

The centre-left government of President Cristina Fernandez, Kirchner’s widow, has never forgiven farmers for a 2008 revolt over the grains export taxes.

The fiery Kirchner, who called farmers “oligarchs,” was seen as a major obstacle to a more fluid dialogue. Following his sudden death last week, farm leaders are hoping recent signs of an easing in tensions will now become more evident.

“Our aim is for a better and more extensive dialogue to iron out the tensions with the national government,” said Alfredo Rodes, executive director of the Carbap group, which represents farmers in La Pampa and Buenos Aires provinces.

Some farmer advocates have seen signs of easing tensions with the government. For instance, wheat-planting permits were promised at the beginning of planting season and the government has become less strict about domestic livestock prices.

Argentina is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of grains and soy products, meaning markets keep a close eye for signs of policy changes or farmers’ protests, which could disrupt the country’s exports.

Kirchner, who died of a heart attack, oversaw the robust economic recovery that lifted Latin America’s No. 3 economy out of a deep crisis in 2001-02.

That made him popular among many Argentines, but investors disliked his confrontational style and economic policies that stepped up state control. Both he and his wife repeatedly raised export taxes on grains and curbed wheat and corn exports to ensure plentiful, cheap domestic supplies.

Fernandez has vowed to honour her husband’s economic model, of which the export taxes are a pillar. The government says they are a vital tool in redistributing the country’s farming riches among millions of poor Argentines.

But while farm leaders do not expect the taxes to be rolled back, they are optimistic for a more conciliatory tone.

“I’m hoping for a better dialogue. Kirchner was leading the confrontation, and he struggled to get out of that role,” said political analyst Felipe Noguera.

“The government could deepen (Kirchner’s) legacy, or could see the situation as an opportunity to establish new bonds,” Noguera said.

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