(Adds comment from union leader in second paragraph, comment from ports minister in ninth paragraph.)
Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Dock workers in Brazil held up loading at Latin America’s biggest port earlier today in a protest over job security as they consider a strike that would disrupt shipments of everything from sugar to soybeans and corn.
Protests began at Cargill Inc. and Cosan SA Industria & Comercio terminals in the Port of Santos as part of a six-hour stoppage in six states, said Miguel Torres, the vice-president of labor union Forca Sindical. Workers aim to reach an accord with the government to secure union jobs in a proposed port- investment bill by March 15 or may go on strike, union leader Paulo Pereira da Silva told reporters in Brasilia today after a meeting with Ports Minister Leonidas Cristino.
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of coffee, sugar and soybeans, and supplies are now arriving from record harvests. With chronic truck shortages, clogged roads and scarce railroad capacity, the government’s port bill seeks to lure investment at ports that may hire non-union workers. Soybean prices have rallied 4.8 percent this week in Chicago, the most since August, boosting costs for importers including China, the largest buyer of farm commodities.
“This bill is changing the rules of the game and will make life worse for dock workers,” said Torres, whose union represents 36,009 port workers, or 80 percent of Brazil’s total.
About 7 million metric tons of soybean deliveries are being held up at Brazilian ports, boosting prices, Kuok Khoon Hong, the chief executive officer of cooking-oil supplier Wilmar International Ltd., said today in an interview in Singapore. Crushers in China boosted purchases from the U.S. this week on concern that a strike in Brazil will disrupt shipping, researcher Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. said today.
Soybean futures for May delivery rose 0.3 percent to $14.745 a bushel at 10:51 a.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade, after reaching a two-week high of $14.97. Arabica-coffee and orange-juice futures advanced for a third day in New York.
Brazil ports have a record 192 ships waiting to load 10.8 million metric tons of soybeans, corn, wheat and rice, compared with 90 ships waiting to load 4.1 million tons a year earlier, researcher SA Commodities said in a report distributed in Santos today.
Brazil’s government is weighing changes in its proposed regulatory framework for ports to avert a strike that could hurt trade in Latin America’s largest economy, Minister Cristino said in an interview in Brasilia yesterday.
In a meeting with the government today, union leaders agreed to cancel a second six-hour stoppage scheduled for Feb. 26 and a new meeting was slated for March 1, Cristino told reporters after the talks in Brasilia.
“We’re not interested in changing the essence of the measure on ports because it will boost cargo shipments with lower costs,” Cristino said.
Justice Maria Cristina Peduzzi, vice-president of Brazil’s Superior Labor Tribunal, known as TST, ordered the workers to refrain from going on strike and may fine the union 200,000 reais ($101,700) if the go ahead with the stoppage, according to the court’s website.
Expiring terminal concessions held by Cargill, Cosan, Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Libra Terminais SA will probably be renewed if the companies boost investments, he said.
Cargill is the U.S.’s biggest agricultural company. Cosan runs the world’s biggest sugar-cane processor in a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, and ADM is the world’s largest corn processor.
--With assistance from Carla Simoes in Brasilia Newsroom and Luzi Ann Javier in Singapore. Editors: Carlos Caminada, Charles Siler