Mexican corn imports to dip 9% this year, government forecasts

MEXICO CITY, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Mexico’s corn imports could fall by about 9% this year, as the government seeks to discourage the use of genetically modified grains and boost its local crop, the agriculture ministry said on Tuesday.

Agriculture Minister Victor Villalobos made what he said was a preliminary forecast at a news conference. Speaking alongside him, Santiago Argüello, a senior ministry official, said that would amount to a drop of about 1.5 million tonnes of grain.

“Our agricultural planning is to reduce imports gradually,” Argüello said.

Villalobos was touting the government’s Corn for Mexico program, which seeks to substitute 30% of Mexico’s current volume of imports with national production by 2024.

The public-private program aims to benefit some 300,000 small and medium-size corn farmers in the country, but much of the government’s pledged support has been cut.

Industry critics argue the budget cuts mean that Mexico’s reliance on imports is likely to grow in the near-term despite the government’s lofty goal of growing its local crop.

The bulk of Mexico’s corn imports come from the United States, its top trade partner. In the year through November, Mexico had imported 13 million tonnes from the United States.

Mexico is mainly a producer of white corn, which is used mostly for human consumption. Mexico produced about 25 million tonnes of white corn last year and around 3.1 million tonnes of yellow corn, according to the Mexican agriculture ministry.

The vast majority of Mexico’s corn imports are for the yellow variety and it generally produces more than enough white corn for its own needs. (Reporting by Adriana Barrera; Additional reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)