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Idea of Mexico ditching imports of US corn, soy 'doesn't work' - Bunge

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Bunge downplayed the potential for Mexico, switching crop imports from the US to South America, in a backlash against President Donald Trump, even as the agribusiness giant flagged the prospect ahead of a flood of Argentine and Brazil crop sales.

Soren Schroder, the Bunge chief executive, asked whether Mexico might source more of its crops South America, said that "I wouldn't say that's the case, at least not at this point.

North American origins "both in terms of corn and soybeans are obviously more than well supplied, with mounting surpluses", meaning they will "remain the cheapest" source of agricultural commodities for Mexico".

The comments follow a threat by Mexican senator Armando Rios Piter, who leads a congressional committee on foreign relations, to introduce a bill shifting corn import demand from the neighbouring US to Brazil and Argentina.

The proposal follows plans by Donald Trump, the new US president, to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, and impose taxes on imports from its southern neighbour.

'It doesn't work'

A switch of Mexico – a large importer of the likes of corn, soybeans and sorghum - to purchases from South America "frankly, all depends on price" Mr Schroder told investors.

Cost of corn to delivered to Vera Cruz US and (Argentina), by month

April: $180 a tonne, ($206 a tonne)

May: $183 a tonne, ($205 a tonne)

June: $183 a tonne, ($204 a tonne)

July: $182 a tonne, ($202 a tonne)

August: $183 a tonne, ($204 a tonne)

Prices C&F, shipped from NOLA, US and Bahia Blanca, Argentina.

Source: Rice Dairy

Separately, data from Chicago-based broker Rice Dairy showed that, April basis, US corn supplies, from New Orleans, are $0.65 a bushel cheaper to ship to the Mexican port of Vera Cruz than Argentine supplies exported from the northern port of Bahia Blanca.

For August delivery, the advantage was $0.53 a bushel, and some $0.63 a bushel over supplies shipped from Brazil's Paranagua port.

'A lot of pricing ahead'

However, Mr Schroder highlighted the prospect ahead of a wave of crop selling by South American farmers who have been slow to hedge so far, in the face of a strengthening Brazilian real which has cut the value, in local terms, of assets such as corn and soybeans priced internationally in dollars.

In Brazil, where farmers a "good 10%, maybe even a little more by now, behind" in pricing their ongoing soybean harvest, more active selling will start next month.

"We really do believe that as we get into March, March and April will be the month when we will start seeing brisk [pricing]," he told investors.

"So we've got a lot of pricing ahead of us."

'Large safrinha crop'

In corn, Brazilian hedging of the safrinha crop - currently being sown, and which is the source of most of the country's exports – would step up later in the year.

"Almost none of the new crop corn or the safrinha corn has been priced, partly because prices at the moment are below the minimum price that's guaranteed by the Brazilian government, so there's no incentive from any farmers to sell in advance," Mr Schroder said.

However, with plantings "ahead of schedule", and "great" growing conditions "it looks like we will have a very large safrinha corn crop, and it will come to market sometime in the latter part of our summer".

Argentine soy forecast

In Argentina too - where "a lot of" the next corn harvest remains to be priced, and "almost" none of the soybean crop has been hedged - farmer crop sales are poised to increase.

"We expect that the Argentine farmer to be a seller of his crop when he harvests it in April, May, and June," Mr Schroder said, adding that the country's soybean crop may not have been affected by flooding as significantly as some commentators believe.

"Many people expect… it's probably at least 55m tonnes, or maybe a little more."

Some market forecasts last month dipped below 50m tonnes.

By Mike Verdin

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