Brazil customs strike causing truck border delays

Brazil customs strike causing truck border delays

Importers in the Mercosur neighboring countries are now lobbying their governments to exert pressure on Brasilia to try harder to resolve this bitter, long-running dispute. Photo credit: WikiCommons.

With Brazil’s customs office strike nearing its eighth week, long but “just about manageable” delays have occurred at its leading ports, but crippling delays for truck drivers at the Argentinian and Uruguay borders are causing losses for shippers and transport providers — as well as likely spoiling the holidays for many Brazilians.

Further, about 1,500 trucks are currently waiting at Foz do Iguacu for authorization from the Brazilian Receita Federal (RF or customs office) so they can transport their goods into Paraguay and Argentina. Another 1,200 are stranded at the Uruguaiana border with Argentina, with costly delays there ranging from three to eight days. Estimates say truckers and shippers are losing millions of dollars each week due to the delays.

Importers in the Mercosur neighboring countries are now lobbying their governments to exert pressure on Brasilia to try harder to resolve this bitter, long-running dispute, which seems to have continued for an eternity and will now affect traditional Christmas imports, such as cod (bacalhau), Christmas trees from Norway and Portugal, figs, cashew nuts, Panetone from Italy, and various fruits as well as toys from China.

Union leaders for Sindifisco, the body that represents the various categories of RF workers, say they will continue to strike until the government grants them a higher wage, as well as drops a plan to raise the retirement age and cut other benefits.

Earlier this year, the union thought the issue had been resolved. The government had promised to meet most of the wage demands, but then delayed the implementation of that policy for one year, due to federal budget constraints.

Under Brazilian law, if a trade union gets permission from the Supreme Court of Justice it can go on strike with members drawing full salary for up to 90 days, as long as 30 percent of union members are working to deal with emergency measures. Sindifisco won this permission, and its current modus operandi is for 70 percent of its members to stop all work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and to work — but without computers, making work processes very inefficient — on Mondays and Fridays.

Meanwhile, Brazilian fruit and coffee exporters seem to be among those worst hit by the strike and “go slows,” which started in earnest on November 1; shipper associations for these sectors have expressed their anger over the affair.

A spokesperson for the Brazilian Association of Fruit Producers and Exporters (Abrafrutas) told Friday that his members had reported most problems at the key port of Santos — which always bears the brunt of nationwide strikes, especially by the RF — and problems at the international airport at Guarulhos.

“Our members are still experiencing delays of around three days, on average, and especially at the port of Santos and Guarulhos airport, where processing of documents and sanitary procedures seems to be particularly slow,” said the Abrafrutas spokesperson. “We are lobbying the Ministry of Agriculture to try and bring the strike to an end. Lemons, limes, and mango exporters are suffering the most in Brazil right now.”

The spokesperson added that the ports of Natal, in the northern state of Rio Grande do Norte, and Salvador, in Bahia state, were also heavily congested but the key  Brazilian fruit exporting port of Pecem was relatively unscathed.

Cecafe, the Brazilian coffee exporters association, said its members too were suffering, especially in Santos, where delays of between four and eight days were reported.

The union, which represents the auditors department within the RF, Sindifisco, organized protests outside the customs building in Santos Thursday to help keep the strike in the public’s eye.

Still, Marianne von Lachmann, president of SindaRio (Association of Shipping Agents, state of Rio de Janeiro), said that in Rio de Janeiro the impact of this RF strike so has been far less than at ports such as Santos.

“There has not been too much congestion in Rio de Janeiro due to the strike because the container terminals had been underutilized anyway in recent months, owing to the economic recession that has been particularly bad in Rio,” von Lachmann said to “With many terminals less than 60 percent occupied, there is still space, which is why they are offering discounts to customers.”

“However, many shippers are still suffering extra costs for the extra storage emanating from the delays in inspections,” von Lachmann said, who until recently was the president of the powerful shippers group, Firjan (the Association of Industries for the state of Rio de Janeiro).

Meanwhile, another shipping agent, this time based in Santos, said he hoped the government would stick it out and reduce the pensions and perks of the RF employees, in order to help set an example for other public officials, arguing the state sector was “bloated and needing cutting back.” However, a vote Thursday in the Brazilian Congress failed, by about 10 votes, to get the required votes (308) to guarantee full support for the cost-cutting measures of Brazilian President Michel Temer; he may eventually have to concede defeat on the issue in the new year.

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