Santos customs strike escalates, spreads nationwide

Receita Federal (customs) officers in the port of Santos are escalating their slowdowns and strikes that began last week as volumes surge ahead of the Christmas holiday.

The escalation at Santos comes as the the customs union, Sindifisco, says that 7,000 members nationwide will also join with their colleagues in Santos, and it signals that the simmering dispute between the government and customs officials has now come to a boil and is about to overflow.

“This strike by our members will cause industry shortages and disruptions throughout the country,” said Renato Tavares, a director for Sindifisco in Santos. “The situation will be worse in Santos, because it is Brazil’s leading port, and also in the Manaus Free Trade Zone [in the Amazonas region]. Later, airports and access to borders with Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay will also be seriously impacted.”

The industrial action began on Wednesday last week, and for an indefinite period of time into the future customs will refuse to process cargo except for “essential and emergency,” products such as medicines, every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and will not use computers on Mondays and Friday, which makes those days de facto strike days.

Various sources said between 3,000 and 4,000 extra containers were currently waiting for clearance in Santos, which handles more than 40 percent of Brazil’s annual container throughput. Some 50 percent of Brazil’s GDP is concentrated in the hinterlands that rely on Santos for trade.

Cargo that normally takes just 24 hours for clearance is now taking close to five days, Tavares said, adding that each day of “all out action” in Santos alone would mean that 100 million reais ($25.9 million) did not flow into the coffers of Brasilia.

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