SINOP, Brazil, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A growing protest by Brazilian truck drivers against high fuel prices entered a seventh day on Tuesday, interrupting supplies of diesel and food across several commodity-rich states at the start of harvest season.
The protests are part of a reaction to the return of fuel taxes, one of several unpopular measures that President Dilma Rousseff is counting on to shore up government fiscal accounts.
The spontaneous spread of the demonstrations without organized help from unions has complicated state and federal government efforts to negotiate with the protesters. So far, isolated attempts by the government have not been fruitful in meeting their demands.
“There is no sign the blockage in Sorriso (Mato Grosso) and the other towns in the state is ending,” said a representative for Rota do Oeste, the consortium that operates the BR 163 highway on Tuesday. “Trucks are not getting through.”
Truckers started restricting the flow of goods along BR 163, the main highway running through top soybean-producing state Mato Grosso, on Feb. 18 but the demonstrations quickly spread and spilled into as many as six states by Monday, including Minas Gerais, Parana, Goias and Rio Grande do Sul.
A ragtag group of smaller logistics companies and independent truckers have called for state and federal relief in diesel and toll prices, which protesters say are squeezing their profits.
A 15-centavo-per-liter ($0.20/gallon) increase in diesel taxes took effect on Feb. 1. Over the past week, the price of diesel has averaged 3.06 reais a liter ($4.15/gallon) in Mato Grosso, according to the National Petroleum Agency.
Truckers have crammed into roadside stops, grassy medians and along shoulders of roads leading in and out of towns across the center-south farm belt. They are allowing cars and public transport to pass but have clamped down on truck movement.
In some smaller towns, there is a shortage of diesel oil for farm equipment, the fuel distribution association Sindicom said, and farmers are concerned they will run out of the fuel used to harvest maturing grain crops. Harvest in parts of Mato Grosso has already stopped because there is not enough fuel.
Brazil is the world’s leading supplier of sugar, coffee, orange juice, beef, poultry and soybeans. So far, ports have been able to fill arriving ships but may soon run out of stocks if the strike continues much longer, traders said.
Brazil’s BRF SA, the world’s biggest chicken exporter, said production at two of its factories in Parana had stopped due to lack of raw materials blocked by the protest. ($1=2.86 reais) (Additional reporting by Reese Ewing in Sao Paulo; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)