Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 11:57 UK

Mexico to cut food import tariffs

Mexican tortillas made from corn
There have been demonstrations against rising tortilla prices

Reacting to pressure over rising food prices, the Mexican government is to cut import tariffs for staple crops such as corn, wheat and rice.

The tariff cuts were part of a package of measures announced by President Felipe Calderon designed to support struggling farmers and help consumers.

The cost of importing other foodstuffs such as beans and milk will also fall.

Inflation is at a three-year high and the cost of popular foods such as tortillas have sparked protests.

'Food security'

But farming groups gave a lukewarm reaction to the proposals, arguing they would not address the underlying weakness of the agriculture industry.

The measures were in the interest of "food security", the president said.

The tariff cuts will bring down the cost of importing corn, certain levies on which are as high as 194%.

Despite being the world's fourth-largest corn producer, Mexico still buys in about half of what it consumes.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon
We will not allow the poorest families to pay the consequences of a situation created beyond our borders
President Felipe Calderon

Under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), tariffs on farm trade between Mexico, Canada and the US have already been abolished.

But certain levies for beans and rice from other nations are as high as 125% and 67% respectively.

The rising cost of staple foodstuffs, which countries around the world are grappling with, have pushed annual inflation up to 4.5%, the highest level since 2005.

President Calderon blamed the situation on soaring demand for foodstuffs in China and India as well as the use of farmland for producing biofuels.

"We want to be able to bring these basic products to Mexico from any part of the world at the best price for Mexican consumers," he said.

"We will not allow the poorest families to pay the consequences of a situation created beyond our borders."

But critics said it was unclear whether the measures were permanent and added they would not improve the dwindling purchasing power and distribution capacity of the farming industry.

"The government is making emergency imports but its policy is not accompanied by a serious reflection of the failure of Mexican agriculture," said Margarito Montes Parra, secretary-general of the General Union of Workers and Peasants.




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