Argentine mayor tries to close port, crushing continues

An Argentine mayor said Thursday he will try to persuade the government to close down port operations at one of the country's main export hub for grains and oilseeds in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly virus Covid-19.

The mayor of the city of Timbues in the south of the Santa Fe province said he will try to suspend grain deliveries at ports and ban the arrival of trucks carrying grain and soybeans from Friday until April 2 - a move that has triggered outrage from crushers and port owners.

“The decision of the Timbues authorities to close all grain terminals is regrettable. All the big terminals are there. This situation is incredible and unpresedented,” Gustavo Idigoras, head of the local oilseed crushing and exporters chamber Ciara-CEC, told Agricensus.

“We must not make political uses of the serious health situation. The transportation and exports of grains and derivative products is an essential activity of the country. If someone stops this activity without real justifications, this will cause harm to the workers and to the country,” he added.

Timbues is home to several crushing plants and with five grain terminals it exports millions of tonnes of grains, oilseeds and meals and oils every year.

Yet while the deliveries will be suspended, the decision by the mayor - first announced on Wednesday - to stop port operations was largely ignored by crushers on Thursday after he was overruled by the governor of the provinve and the president of Argentina.

“The communal chief of Timbues does not have the authority to close the local grain terminals. A communal decree is not above national law. Let's see how far he wants to go with this situation. We now have to wait to see how the national government acts, and if it decides to close the grain terminals, you have to accept it. But the Timbues mayor does not have any legal authority to do what he is doing,” said Guillermo Wade, president of the Chamber of Port and Maritime Activity.


Argentina exports half the world's traded soymeal and soyoil and sources at the plant say crushers continue to operate as normal and are running down stocks.

“The ports are continuing to work because they don't have orders from the governor of Santa Fe nor the president of Argentina,” a Buenos Aires based broker said.

A second Argentine broker confirmed saying: “We have checked today, and the elevators and crushing plants are working normally.”

However, “we have several sources confirming the trucks can't go to Timbues so the plants must be running with stocks,” the broker added.

Furthermore, neighbouring Uruguay closed its borders this week, limiting soybean

Timbues is home to several crushing plants, including those owned by LDC, Glencore and Cofco.

The Renova plant – a joint venture between Glencore and Vincetin – has a daily crush capacity of 30,000 mt of soybeans, with the LDC and Cofco plants each have a daily capacity of 20,000 mt of beans.

Most crushers, however, are not running at full capacity “as crush margins are bad and there is a lack of farmer selling,” a third crusher said.

The general quarantine in the city of Timbues may still happen as the mayor, governor and national government aim to hold talks for Thursday.

“Even in that case we have to see what it could represent for our sector because the president said a few days ago that it was imperative to keep international trade open,” he added.

Furthermore, the Argentine government is mulling a 10-day lockdown for the entire country from March 20, although it is unclear what that means.