"This can mean bankruptcy for many of them," Agriculture Minister Luis Mayol said in a joint press conference with the finance minister on Thursday.

Unionists at the Angamos port said in a statement that the stoppage is due to "labor neglect" by Ultraport, a company that specializes in freight handling and management at 20 Chilean ports.

Meanwhile, companies are running out of space to store cargo and fruit could start to rot with no end in sight for the lingering strikes.

Ronald Bown, the president of Chile's Export Association, told local radio Thursday that growers will temporarily stop harvesting in the central-south region Friday because there's no more space to store fruit.

"This is affecting medium and small-scale farmers," Bown said. "Many of them have their future on the line this season."

Fruit trade group Fedefruta said 1,600 containers are grounded at the San Antonio port. The company losses there total about $50 million up to now but could rise to $400 million if the stoppage continues throughout April.

"The year's work of more than 30,000 growers is being lost in a few days," said Fedefruta President Cristian Allendes.

Several timber companies have also suspended shipments.

Analysts and government officials fear the strike could dent Chile's image as a stable economy with a productive workforce that takes pride in meeting its obligations.

"It's not only these jobs that are directly in danger," Lavin said. "But future investment in the exporting sector and also meeting supplies abroad because the ships are paralyzed."

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Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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