* First U.S. bulk maize cargo to Spain since at least 1998
* Europe’s GM rules hinder U.S. maize, traders say
* Industry expects new GM rules in November
* Spain allowed to import 2 mln T non-EU maize a year
(Adds USDA data, EU proposals)
By Martin Roberts
MADRID, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Spain has received its first bulk maize cargo from from the United States in at least 12 years, trade data show, a sign that European trade rules over genetically-modified (GM) organisms may be relaxing.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show 49,500 tonnes of maize were shipped to Spain in early October, the first cargo of more than 2,000 tonnes since at least 1998. The roster at Tarragona, Spain’s biggest grain port, showed the Ioannis K, which had sailed from Myrtle Grove, docked on Oct. 21 with a cargo of 49,502 tonnes, and a port source said it was unloading maize on Friday.
Traders say they have been unable to import U.S. maize for many years because it usually contains GM strains not approved in Europe, where public opposition to GM organisms is strong.
Trade concern over the European Union’s zero-tolerance stance grew last year, however, when entry of U.S. soy cargoes to Europe was blocked after they were found to contain minute traces of GM maize strains not approved in Brussels.
The 27-country-bloc now plans to allow a low level presence (LLP) of 0.1 percent of unauthorised GM imports of animal feed, but not human food. [ID:nLDE68S1PL]
Jorge de Saja, of Spanish animal feed compounders’ group CESFAC, said dealers were offering U.S. maize for December delivery. CESFAC expected EU agriculture ministers to ratify the LLP proposals by late November.
“If the LLP solution is approved in a few weeks, and given that all maize and soya strains grown in the Americas are at least scientifically approved, the door could be opened for U.S. maize to return,” he said.
“The LLP solution is not ideal — the proposed tolerance is low — but it is an infinitely more tolerable situation than what we have suffered all these yars,” he added.
With the maize is being offered for December delivery the grain is likely to leave the port after a decision on LLP.
USDA data also show that 62,200 tonnes of maize were exported to Ireland in mid-September and 57,309 tonnes to Germany. Another 18,600 tonnes set sail for Spain in the week ending on Friday.
Spain may import up to 2 million tonnes of maize a year at a special cut levy under the terms of a trade accord originally designed to compensate U.S. farmers for the loss of an important market when the country joined the EU’s forerunner in 1986.
In recent years, however, the so-called “abatimiento” scheme has been used to import maize, the ingredient of choice for animal feed makers, from other origins where EU=approved GM maize strains are grown.
No bids were tendered at the last auction for cut-levy maize held last week, but that was expected because Brussels has set the maize levy at zero. [ID:nLDE69D1SI]
The Tarragona source added that maize was in demand in northeasterly port had also unloaded 46,000 tonnes from Brazil in recent days, and another 54,000 from Ukraine.
“With grain prices at the levels they are, consuming maize in (animal feed) formulae is more advantageous because it has more protein,” he said.
“As for wheat, the domestic market is up and running, and wheat here is very expensive, deliveries are not significant.”
Prompt feed wheat was last offered at about 208 euros ($289.4) a tonne in Tarragona GRAES01, although dealers said it could not compete with domestic new crop from a harvest that was much improved on last year. [ID:nLDE68T1P1]
Maize was quoted at 215/220 euros/tonne.
Tarragona wheat stocks are close to full capacity at an estimated 300,000 tonnes after a flurry of imports from Romania and Bulgaria in recent weeks, but no new shipments were chartered. (Additional Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Jane Baird and Keiron Henderson)