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UPDATE 2-Argentine government steps in to end grains sector tug boat strike

(Recasts with government order to end strike)

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 18 (Reuters) - The Argentine government on Wednesday stepped in to end a less than day-old strike by tug boat crews that had threatened to disrupt the country’s key grains export sector, with the Labor Ministry ordering a resumption of contract negotiations.

The strike had begun at midnight, according to a statement issued by four crew members’ unions. Contract talks had broken down over wages, but the ministry ordered negotiations to continue. The government regularly issues such orders to keep the strategically important grains export sector operating.

Argentina is a major international supplier of soybeans, corn and wheat and also the world’s top exporter of soymeal livestock feed, which is used to fatten hogs, poultry and cattle from Europe to Southeast Asia.

Strikes are common in the South American country, where employers are hard pressed to raise wages in line with high inflation. Port activity has been interrupted by a series of work stoppages in recent months.

With this year’s wheat harvest yet to start, and corn and soy planting currently under way, November is not high export season.

The strike had begun to affect activity in the Rosario ports hub, which is responsible for about 80% of Argentina’s grains exports. Not all the country’s grains ports require the use of tug boats. (Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Alexander Smith, Steve Orlofsky and Cynthia Osterman)

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