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Argentine farmers say no to tax changes

  • Story Highlights
  • Farmers reject Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's tax changes
  • Argentina plans to change the way it taxes exports of soy products
  • Farming groups have staged strikes, resulting in food shortages in other cities
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Farmers on Friday moved quickly to reject President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's tax concessions made a day earlier.

"She moved the point at which the sliding curve of withholding to a place so high -- about $750 per ton for soy -- that no one has even predicted in any international futures market that it will reach that price," groused Hugo Biolcati, a member of the farmers group Rural Society.

"It's as if we were to tell a worker who makes 2,000 pesos, and he complains that his taxes are being withheld, 'Well, we'll lower the withholding on salaries above 10,000 pesos.' He doesn't see it or feel it. Well, that is how we feel."

The Argentine government announced Thursday it is changing the way it taxes exports of soy products in an attempt to mollify farmers who have used crippling strikes to protest the taxes for more than two months.

Under the new system, small soy producers would get rebates and the tax rate would be cut when soy prices exceed $600 per metric ton, a price far above the $461 per ton that soy closed at Thursday, according to the Argentine Agriculture Secretariat.

Friday marked 80 days that strikes have been occurring.

The Liaison Commission, which represents the nation's four farmers' groups, confirmed that on Monday they will end the third strike, lifting the prohibition against the sale abroad of grains and of cattle for the interior market.

In public comments, President Fernandez did not refer directly to the crisis, but asked simply for the sector to act responsibly. She said the business community must collaborate to help build a different country.

But Anibal Fernandez, minister of security and justice, praised the government's move. "If the price goes up, the withholding goes up. If the price goes down, the withholding goes down. That guarantees that that extraordinary income, in as much as it exists, will be used for the redistribution for the rest who make up this country, and most of all for the most vulnerable."

The tax on exports also applies to wheat, corn and sunflowers. Plus, the government's plan takes into account compensation for small producers.

But many farmers want the 44 percent export taxes rolled back to what they were on March 11, the day Fernandez instituted the tax.

She has argued that the tax on high-priced grains is a necessary way to increase seniors' pensions and help for the poor and that the farmers' demand for a repeal of the export tax amounts to "extortion."

Argentina is the world's second-largest corn exporter and third-largest soybean exporter.

But farmers contend that they are being unfairly forced to pay for the redistribution of wealth, especially since they were the ones who spearheaded the nation's recovery from its economic collapse in 2001-2002.

The federation and other farming groups have staged strikes, including one that lasted three weeks, snarled traffic and resulted in food shortages in cities.

The farm groups struck Wednesday for the third time, and said they would suspend grain and beef sales until Monday.

Fearful of yet another strike, countries such as China and Brazil who are dependent on Argentina's exports have begun to look to other markets.

All About ArgentinaCristina Fernandez de Kirchner

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