UPDATE 3-Argentine dock workers block key grains ports

 * Dock workers demand wage hikes, block Rosario terminals
 * Most soy-crushing plants, ports operate normally
 * Negotiations continue, workers optimistic about deal
 (Updates market reaction, talks not planned Thursday)
 By Maximilian Heath
 BUENOS AIRES, March 3 (Reuters) - Argentine dock workers
blocked two major grain export terminals for a second day on
Thursday to press pay demands, but most soy-crushing plants and
ports operated normally, the labor cooperative said.
 About 16 percent of the country's soyoil-processing
capacity was affected by the protest at a terminal north of the
city of Rosario shared by Bunge (BG.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Argentina's AGD, and
at another nearby facility operated by Cargill [CARG.UL].
 "In the rest of the plants in the area, activity is normal.
But, if we don't get a favorable response from the companies,
we're ready to extend the strike to all the ports," said Herme
Juarez, head of the cooperative in Puerto General San Martin.
 The blockade began on Wednesday evening after pay talks
between exporters and the dock workers' cooperative ended
without a deal, but no formal strike announcement was made.
 Negotiations were not expected to resume on Thursday, but
fresh talks aimed at averting a more widespread protest could
take place on Friday instead, an industry source said on
condition of anonymity.
 Argentina is the world's top soyoil and soymeal supplier
and the third-biggest exporter of uncrushed beans, meaning
labor disruption in grains ports often drives global soy prices
higher.
 At the Chicago Board of Trade, U.S. soy futures closed up
for a third straight session on Thursday, partly due to
concerns over the dock workers' protest. [ID:nN03171178]
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 Hefty wage demands -- traditionally negotiated in March and
April -- have become common in Argentina in the past five years
as annual inflation soared, hitting around 25 percent in 2010,
according to private estimates.
 "This is the same situation as always," said an industry
source with knowledge of the negotiations. "The dock workers
are offered a 20 percent hike, but ask for 90 percent; there is
a lot of middle ground."
 The latest labor unrest in Rosario follows a week-long
strike in January in which workers at grains export facilities
halted shipments for days, driving up futures prices in
Chicago.
 A strike in Rosario-area ports in the coming weeks could
cause even greater disruption because corn and soy harvesting
have started in the South American nation.
 A year ago, dock workers strangled shipments for days as
they demanded higher pay for loading and unloading cargo.
 About 80 percent of Argentina's soyoil and meal is produced
around Rosario, located 180 miles (300 km) north of the
capital, Buenos Aires.
 (Additional reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Writing by James
Matthews; Editing by Walter Bagley)
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