Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

S. Africa Approves 1.3 Million Tons of U.S. GMO Corn Imports

Updated on
  • Country has suffered worst drought since records began
  • GM corn imports from U.S. authorized for the first time

South Africa issued permits to allow total imports of 1.3 million metric tons of genetically modified corn from the U.S. since allowing entry of the grain for the first time in December after the worst drought since records began in 1904. Prices for the shortest-dated corn contracts declined in Johannesburg.

There have been 15 permits issued for GM corn, or maize as it’s known locally, Makenosi Maroo, a spokeswoman for the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Wednesday in an e-mailed response to questions. She didn’t say whether the permits were for white or yellow corn.

South Africa became a net importer of corn for the first time since 2008 in the marketing season that ended in April, after the drought slashed local harvests. Approval was given for the entry of both white and yellow GM corn from the U.S., the Pretoria-based South African Cereals and Oilseeds Trade Association said in December. While South Africa grows its own GM corn, to date it hadn’t allowed modified grain from the U.S. to be imported as food.

Local corn farmers oppose the new imports because they are likely to push prices lower, Grain SA, the biggest local industry organization, said at the time.

Cheaper Corn

White corn for March delivery, the most-active contract on the South African Futures Exchange in Johannesburg, fell by the 100-rand limit for the second straight day on Thursday, losing 3.2 percent to 2,988 rand ($225) a metric ton. Yellow corn for the same delivery date declined as much as 3.1 percent before paring losses to trade 0.2 percent lower at 2,900 rand a ton.

GM corn is “a lot cheaper than the non-GM,” Brink van Wyk, a trader at BVG (Pty) Ltd., said by phone on Thursday. Those additional volumes, combined with the record levels of imports already recorded, mean “all of a sudden there’s enough maize to reach the new season,” he said. “The market is taking out the whole premium that there won’t be enough maize.”

So far none of the corn has landed in South African Ports, Hampie Lourens, managing director of South African Bulk Terminals, which handles grain imports at the port of Durban, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

South Africa has imported 641,235 tons of the country’s staple, white corn, in the season that began May 1, mostly from Mexico, according to data from the South African Grain Information Service. Yellow corn imports in the period have totaled 1.2 million tons, much of it from Argentina. In South Africa yellow corn is mainly fed to animals.

Farmers in the country will probably increase the area planted with corn by 31 percent in the 2017 season after rains eased drought conditions, a survey showed last week. The Crop Estimates Committee is scheduled to release its prediction for plantings later Thursday.

(Updates with corn prices in fifth paragraph, trader comment in sixth.)
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