Farm threatens to end truce if gov't fails to meet demands

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Argentine farmers could revive the strike they called off last week if the government fails to meet their demands, the head of a leading farm group said on Tuesday.

The three-week farm strike against a tax hike on soy exports left meat counters bare and disrupted the country's key grains exports. Farmers suspended the measure for 30 days last week in order to negotiate with the center-left government.

However, talks have yet to start and the delay has annoyed many farmers.

"The truce could end up being called off before then if there's no kind of response or the chance of progress," Pedro Apaolaza, president of the Carbap association, told local radio.

Carbap groups farmers in the provinces of Buenos Aires and La Pampa and is part of one of the four national associations that staged the 21-day strike.

Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez called for patience.

"We're going to meet and get to work. We've got to wait, get ourselves organized and then sit down ... There's not much point in making so much noise about the issue," he said.

The farmers' protest landed President Cristina Fernandez with her biggest political challenge since she succeeded her husband, Nestor Kirchner, to the presidency in December.

Farmers manned road blocks to stop farm goods reaching market, making beef scarce in a country where steak is an everyday staple. There were also shortages of dairy goods and vegetables, and grains exporters had to renege on contracts.

In an effort to ease the tension, the government announced a packet of measures such as tax rebates for small landholders, low-cost loans for machinery and subsidies on transport costs for those based far from ports.

But some farmers are impatient for negotiations to start.

"I think (the government) is trying to wear us down. They've got it wrong again. They should have called the dialogue immediately," Apaolaza said.

Industry sources said that if the strike was revived in May, it would probably be directed specifically at the multimillion-dollar grains trade. Argentina is one of the world's top supplies of soy, wheat and corn.

Despite the impatience of some farm leaders, others were more cautious.

"Breaking the truce wouldn't be prudent, it wouldn't be constructive at a delicate moment like this one. We've got to stick to ... the 30 days," Eduardo Buzzi, president of the Agrarian Federation (FAA), told Reuters.

He added that farm associations would ask for talks with the president in the coming hours.

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