Coffee exporters in Colombia are on alert for possible truckers strike

Coffee exporters

Colombia coffee exporters, the world’s top producer of washed Arabica, are bracing for a possible truckers strike in the coming weeks, just seven months after they last blocked highways and sent coffee exports plunging by 60 percent.

Exporters scrambled to meet contracts during the 45-day truckers strike last year, as green coffee rotted on roadsides and storage facilities overflowed with stalled shipments.

The strike was called off after the government and truckers' unions reached a deal on the gradual removal of old vehicles, a new pension plan and cargo costs.

But truckers groups say the government has failed to hold up its end of the deal, spooking exporters and transport companies wary of a repeat of last year.

A strike as early as this month would be worrisome, exporters said, but would have a more severe impact in late March, when a larger harvest will be brought in.

The unions say the government has failed to put in place a new pension plan for independent truckers and has not gotten enough older trucks off the roads, exacerbating an excess of vehicles.

Juan Carlos Bobadilla, general secretary of the Colombian Truckers Association union said, "We are once again exhausting all the mechanisms to see if we can get the government to fulfill its part. The regular truckers are asking for a strike. We as leaders are trying to look for alternatives so the government fulfills its part, to avoid disaster."

The trucking unions had planned a meeting this weekend. There was no immediate comment from them or the transport ministry on the arrests.

The potential impact on Arabica exports comes amid tight global supplies of lower-costing Robusta. Benchmark Robusta futures rallied to a 5 1/2-year high this month on the prospect of reduced output.

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