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Japan corn users urge U.S. to limit ethanol

Six key groups of corn users in Japan, the world’s biggest user of the grain, have urged the United States, the world’s biggest supplier, to cut back on using corn to make ethanol, so as to ease a supply shortage due to the worst drought in 56 years.

In the first request of its kind, the Japanese groups, including Zen-Noh, the country’s biggest agriculture co-operative, asked Washington to consider a two-year waiver of the so-called ethanol mandate to curb gains in U.S. corn prices.

“This (price rise) has put great pressure on Japanese industries to seek alternative sources of corn and substitute feed grains,” the groups said in a Sept. 7 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“This can potentially lead to a long-term loss of export market share for U.S. producers.”

The groups have received no reply yet, said an industry source who declined to be identified without authorization to speak to the media.

Higher U.S. corn prices have prompted Japanese users to import non-U.S. corn and cheaper feed wheat this year, resulting in their imports of U.S. origin falling to 8.31 million tonnes in the first eight months, down 15 per cent from a year earlier.

The ethanol mandate, formally named the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), guarantees biofuels a share of the gasoline market.

The RFS serves to limit exports and other uses of corn by requiring that 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol be produced in 2012 and 13.8 billion gallons in 2013, which are equivalent to 4.7 billion bushels and 4.9 billion bushels of corn, respectively, the letter said.

That would take up almost half of estimated production in the marketing year to August 2013 as the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 12 pegged U.S. corn production in 2012-13 at 10.727 billion bushels.

“We believe it is in the United States’ national interest, as well as Japan’s interest… that the playing field of the corn trade be levelled by waiving the RFS for at least two years in order to ensure adequate recovery of stocks and market access,” the groups said in their letter.

In the United States, the governors of two poultry-growing states in August asked the Obama administration for relief from the requirement to use corn ethanol in gasoline, saying the grain was needed to feed livestock used to feed people.

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