Truck drivers have clashed with farmers who set up roadblocks across Argentina [Reuters]

Argentinian farmers have suspended a 16-day strike against higher taxes on grains exports and said they would begin talks with the government.

The farm protests in Argentina had halted grain exports and led to food shortages in parts of the country, presenting Cristina Kirchner, the country's president, with her biggest crisis since taking office in December.

"The objective is to facilitate a meeting with the national government, after which we will evaluate the results, which will be submitted to the rank and file nationwide," the four biggest farming groups said in a statement on Friday.

Farm groups said they were responding to Kirchner's call the previous day, when she said the government would negotiate if the farmers ended their protest.

Blocked roads

Argentina's economic woes

Although rich in natural resources, Argentina's 39.5 million population has suffered in several economic crises in recent decades

Fiscal deficits, high inflation and mounting debts culminated in 2001's economic crisis, which sparked protests, currency devaluation and debt defaults

Sixty per cent of Argentinians were also pushed below the poverty line

C
ountry's main exports include soybeans, corn, wheat, petroleum, gas and vehicles

Inflation is currently in double figures and farmers say recent tax increases on goods such as soybeans, sunflower oil and beef by up to 45 per cent to boost revenues will cripple their livelihoods

Source: CIA World Factbook
The groups said they would remain on the side of the roads ready to resume road blocks while they negotiate with the government.

The protest, over a steep increase in taxes levied on soya beans, had been escalating, with demonstrations for and against the government and clashes between farmers and transporters angry about the blocked roads.

The taxes, of up to 45 per cent, were imposed on a range of goods including soya beans, sunflower oil and beef in a bid to boost state revenue at a time of exceptionally high commodity prices and to curb high inflation in the country.

Kirchner had labelled the farmers "extortionists", and said high commodities prices on the world market, coupled with Argentina's devalued peso, had made many rural landowners very wealthy.

Some of the country's middle class, itself decimated in the a devastating financial collapse in 2001, sided with the farmers and held solidarity demonstrations in Buenos Aires.

Kirchner's supporters - drawn from the large poor underclass - countered with their own marches and in some cases clashes erupted.

On Thursday, she had struck a more conciliatory tone, pleading with farmers to end their strike.

"The government's doors are open but please, lift this strike for the sake of the people," she said.

Source: Agencies