BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Argentine farmers lifted roadblocks Friday, easing a 15-day agricultural strike that has caused traffic jams and depleted grocery shelves across the country.
The farmers launched their strike to protest a 44 percent export tax on commodities like soy and sunflower seeds implemented by the government March 11.
They lifted the roadblocks as talks began between the four main agricultural unions and the government over the impasse, according to Argentina's news agency, Telam.
The negotiations started Friday at the Casa Rosada (Pink House) in Buenos Aires, a day after President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner told farmers her government would not hold talks with them unless they lifted the roadblocks.
Argentine media said Kirchner was not directly involved in Friday's meeting, but she was seen shaking hands with the farmers union leaders after the meeting.
In the province of Santiago del Estero, television channel Todo Noticias reported the roadblocks were lifted and cars and trucks were passing. But many of the farmers said they would continue their vigil on the roads until more information was available about the negotiations taking place in Buenos Aires.
In the town of Gualeguaychu, in the province of Entre Rios, police officials waved trucks through rural routes in both directions, while farmers stood watching nearby.
Dozens of 4x4 sport utility vehicles and farming tractors were lined up on the side of the roads. Some strikers were packing their belongings and tents and preparing to head home.
Argentina is the world's second largest corn exporter and third largest soybean exporter.
Kirchner strongly backs the new tax, labeling the growers' demands for its repeal as "extortion" in a speech Tuesday night. The tax, she said, is justified.
"It is the sector that exports almost everything," she said. "About 95 percent of soybeans are exported. They're not exported in Argentine pesos, they're exported in euros, in dollars. But the costs are Argentine costs."
But Alfredo Rodes, executive director of the Confederation of Rural Associations of Buenos Aires and La Pampa, said the taxes go directly to the central government, not to the provinces where the farmers live, and he accused the government of demanding "practically half" of farmers' production in taxes.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Buenos Aires and around the country Tuesday and Wednesday nights to show their support for the striking farmers, banging pots and pans and filling streets and avenues in city centers. Watch the loud protest »
The scenes this week were reminiscent of December 2001, when unpopular government measures led to the fall of then-president Fernando de la Rua and the country's record debt default and currency devaluation. E-mail to a friend
Journalist Brian Byrnes contributed to this report.
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