Colombia’s truckers strike is producing mixed effects on food prices, a key ingredient of inflation, as some independent truckers fear reprisals if they don’t participate in the walkout.
Around 100,000 of the 120,000 members of a truckers association have been on strike since last week over a move by the government to eliminate minimum freight rates, prompting fears of a hit to exports such as coffee.
In Colombia’s biggest food storage center, independent transporter Alejandro Lopez said he refused to leave the Corabastos warehouse in Bogota after his truck was attacked as he tried to transport six tonnes of plantains.
“While leaving town, some people attacked my truck, people that are contracted to damage cars so we can’t move,” he said.
After only a few incidents, independent truckers and supply store officials say drivers now fear transporting goods out of stores to the rest of the country. Corabastos’ warehouses serve 10 million people in Colombia—a fourth of the nation.
The strike is having mixed effects on food prices as some goods are more costly due to shortages while others go down in price since they are stuck in warehouses and traders are forced to sell the goods, Corabastos officials say.
Food prices in the Andean nation have already been on the rise due to heavy rains and floods last year, which pushed up analysts’ inflation expectations and saw the central bank make its first reference in January to raising interest rates.
Foodstuffs comprise 28.2 percent of the inflation basket.
Truckers have in the past caused disruptions. They went on strike for 10 days in 2009 and two weeks in 2008. Unions use the threat of strikes and short walkouts for leverage in bargaining talks.
Past Mifortunes, Future Challenges
The government of President Juan Manuel Santos has said it would help transporters renovate and modernize their fleets, and provide technical and legal assistance.
But Juan Javier Amaya, national director of the nation’s largest truckers association, said that talks with the government over ending the strike had frozen.
“For the moment, dialogue with the government is closed. This is an indefinite stoppage and in this sense, we’ll take it to the end,” Amaya told Reuters.
Coffee players in Colombia warn a prolonged stoppage could hit supplies at a time when the world’s No. 3 coffee exporter is trying to recover output after lower-than-expected harvests last year and in 2009. Colombia is also the world’s top producer of high-quality washed Arabica beans.
However, exports of a range of goods have yet to feel a pinch since many companies anticipated the walkout and boosted stocks at ports, harbor officials said.
Domingo Chinea, general manager of Buenaventura port, estimated that his harbor had seen a 30 percent reduction in truck traffic since the strike, but that silos and storage capacity were at 38 percent.
“The week before the stoppage, a lot of cargo was taken out and sent. From past misfortunes, people prepare for future challenges,” Chinea said. (Reuters)