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Economy

Mexico seeking alternatives to US for farm imports

With NAFTA under threat, agriculture secretary looks to Russia, South America

Mexican Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada Rovirosa

TOKYO -- Mexico is exploring alternatives to the U.S. for sourcing grains and other agricultural products with renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement expected to start as early as June, Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada Rovirosa told The Nikkei.

Calzada said that the U.S., Mexico and Canada "have the strongest economic region in the world," and stressed that all three signatories to NAFTA have benefited from free trade. For example, Mexico buys U.S. wheat while the U.S. buys Mexican vegetables and fruit, so each country can focus on areas where it has a comparative advantage.

"What I can say is that free trade helps producers and consumers," the secretary said.

Calzada warned of the potential fallout from a border tax, like that proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. "We are the third-largest buyer of U.S. food," he said, pointing to Mexican imports of soybeans and corn. He argued that a renegotiation of NAFTA would ultimately harm American farmers.

"The U.S. market is not the only one" growing agricultural products, Calzada said. He said if the price was right, Mexico could buy wheat from Russia. He named Argentina and Brazil as potential sources for corn, soybeans and meat.

When asked about specific plans to reduce Mexico's dependence on the U.S. market, he spoke of the importance of Asia, and Japan in particular. Growth in Mexican agricultural exports to the country, which include pork and vegetables, "is almost 10% per year," he said.

In addition, "we expect we could sell fruit, and other products like tequila," he said.

Mexico and other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, along with China and South Korea, will be meeting in Chile to discuss a new trade framework. "Mexico would be very much looking for open trade," Calzada said. He also expressed eagerness for increased trade with South Korea, since Mexico sells significantly less to the country than to Japan and sees great opportunity there.

Calzada explained that many thought Mexican agriculture would collapse under NAFTA, but the sector instead boosted productivity and remained competitive. He said Mexico will continue to fearlessly advocate for free trade.

(Nikkei)

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