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UPDATE 1-Spain lobbying European Commission to buy emergency corn from Argentina

(Updates with comments from Spanish minister)

MADRID/BUENOS AIRES, March 9 (Reuters) - Spain’s agriculture minister said on Wednesday he is pushing the European Commission to waive import controls on corn for animal feed after supply gaps left by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Addressing a parliamentary commission, Luis Planas said Commission plans already in the works to expand European cultivation, including allowing farmers to use fallow land, would “in no way” replace imports from third countries.

“I raised the issue of making import mechanisms more flexible in order to be able to buy maize in third countries, in particular Argentina,” he said. “We have stock available but we need to make purchases in third countries in the next 60 days.”

Major buyers of animal feed corn (maize) including the Benelux countries, Iberia, the Middle East and North Africa rely on Ukraine as a major supplier of cattle feed.

Since the Russian invasion, these buyers have turned to other EU corn producers, particularly Romania, Bulgaria and France to plug the gaps and are now looking further afield as well.

With no clear date for discussion on the topic among European nations or a decision from Brussels and Spain’s corn stock due to run out within weeks, Spanish industry groups have been pushing the government to sidestep EC rules and take unilateral action or risk losing out to other buyers.

“If Spain waits and Germany or France goes ahead with the decision to import this corn, there will not be enough for everyone. Spain has to act first,” Jorge de Saja, managing director of the leading feed industry association, told Reuters.

Spain has four weeks of corn in stock and six weeks of crude sunflower oil, which is also used for feed production, according to the association.

“We need the decision to be made this week or we will have to start slaughtering herds, especially chickens,” De Saja said.

A Spanish agricultural ministry spokesman, however, said no unilateral move was possible.

“The (European) Commission is the one that must agree these exceptions in relation to the importation of products from third countries,” he said.

Argentina’s corn exporters confirmed to Reuters on Wednesday that they had held talks with both Spain’s government and its industry on possible corn sales and was ready to move forward.

Gustavo Idigoras, head of the CIARA-CEC grains export and crushing chamber, said Argentina would have ample supplies of 2021/22 corn, currently being harvested, to meet any shortfall in Spain.

He said Lebanon, Egypt and Azerbaijan also were interesting in buying corn.

The vast majority of corn in Argentina, the world’s No. 2 exporter, is genetically modified and contains pesticide residues restricted by Europe.

Planas said there was “no risk” to consumers. (Reporting by Belen Carreno in Madrid and Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires; Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Adam Jourdan, Aislinn Laing and Bill Berkrot)

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