Mexico presses to open Canadian, U.S. agricultural export markets

MEXICO CITY, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Mexico aims to boost agricultural exports to Canada and the United States, including chicken, eggs and dairy products, following the latest round of talks to update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a senior official said.

Raul Urteaga, head of international trade at Mexico’s agriculture ministry, said in an interview that product exceptions to trade terms covering Mexican access in NAFTA’s original text should now be set aside.

“We’re interested in having these exceptions eliminated, in total if possible,” said Urteaga, citing poultry and eggs in Canada as well as dairy in the United States.

“This is an offensive position for Mexico, a proposal we want to push,” he added, noting that Mexican trade negotiators aim to keep in place the existing, mostly free farm trade terms in the pact.

This week, the three nations wrapped up a second round of talks to modernize NAFTA. A third round was set for Ottawa later this month as negotiators race to rewrite the accord by early next year ahead of U.S. and Mexican elections.

The U.S. milk market is of particular interest for Mexico.

“We’re very interested in gaining U.S. access for Grade A milk and we’re working on a proposal or an offensive position for access that has previously been limited,” said Urteaga.

On a parallel track, Mexican trade officials are negotiating with Brazil and Argentina to access more suppliers of grains for the country’s growing livestock sector, which is currently chiefly covered by U.S. yellow corn and soy imports.

“We’ve seen very competitive conditions in South America, particularly in Argentina for bread wheat and (yellow) corn, and in Brazil for yellow corn and soybeans,” said Urteaga, who was in Mexico’s original NAFTA negotiating team in the early 1990s.

Mexico currently sources the vast majority of the roughly 13 million tonnes of annual yellow corn imports from the United States, which he said was unlikely to change quickly.

“But it’s very important for Mexico to give these signals that we have alternatives,” he said.

Urteaga added that Kenya has recently asked to import Mexican white corn. Used to make Mexico’s staple tortillas, white corn is often in surplus.

In the past, Mexico has exported white corn to South African buyers. (Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Adriana Barrera; Editing by David Gregorio)