US farm officials underlined the importance of free trade
agreements - especially with Mexico – to
corn exports, following on from an industry caution, even as Washington prepares
to start renegotiating the Nafta deal.
US corn exports to the 20 countries with which the country
has agreed free trade deals (FTAs) "have trended up over the years, hence
benefiting from preferential agreements", the US Department of Agriculture said.
Indeed, since 2013-14, they have exceeded, and accelerated
ahead of, shipments to countries with which the US does not have a trade pact, to
the tune of some 50% in 2015-16, the latest season for which data were given.
After a period when shipments were limited by demand from
domestic ethanol plants, and the squeeze after the drought year of 2012, "competitive
prices have both restored and expanded trade to free trade agreement partners",
the USDA said.
And in shipments to countries with which the US has trade
agreements, "exports to Colombia and Mexico stand out", the USDA said.
"Mexico has become the top market for US yellow corn, which
is used for feed, while the country's production, primarily white corn, is used
for food," with shipments of 13.3m tonnes, worth $2.5bn, last season.
The comments come as the administration of President Donald
Trump - who has raised tensions with Mexico by proposing to a wall along the US
border, which he says Mexico will pay for – prepares to begin talks on
renegotiating the Nafta trade deal between the two countries and Canada.
'Very strong statement'
And they followed a mission by all directors of the US
Grains Council, an industry group which promotes US grain exports, to Mexico
City "to discuss the trade relationship between US producers and Mexican
"We felt it was really important for the board, and the
board felt it was important, to meet with their customers face-to-face and hear
what they have to say," said Tom Sleight, the council's chief executive.
"That physical presence means a lot to our Mexican trading
partners," making a "very strong statement".
The council added that its "top priority" as the governments
of the United States, Mexico and Canada renegotiate Nafta, in meetings which
could begin in August, "is to maintain this market access and keep this demand
The USDA flagged the role of the rise of genetically
modified technology in undermining exports of corn to countries with which the
US does not have a free trade agreement, and some of which have curbs on
imports of biotech crops.
"Exports to non-FTA partners have trended downward partly
due to biotech policies in importing countries," the department said noting
that, "before biotech issues arose in the mid-1990s, the European Union was a
top destination for US corn.
"Likewise, China became a growing market in the early-2010s
but banned shipments because of these issues," and some African countries "have
a preference for non-biotech corn".