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Mexico, Farmers Avoid Border Protests

(Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Farm groups and the Mexican government agreed to hold talks on a farm accord, avoiding protests that had threatened to block the country's border with the United States.

Mexican Economy Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez on Monday also left open the possibility that he would renegotiate North American Free Trade Agreement requirements that require tariffs on U.S. farm products to be lifted.

However, Mexican chicken farmers received the best news from an unlikely place: the U.S. poultry industry. The National Chicken Council has asked the U.S. government to begin talks with Mexico on maintaining and possibly even increasing Mexican tariffs on U.S. chicken exports.

Some economists speculate that U.S. poultry producers support the tariffs because U.S. poultry giants that own processing plants and raise poultry in Mexico want to shield those operations from losses.

Farming groups had threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexican border on Wednesday -- the day the tariffs are to be lifted.

But facing an expected crackdown by Mexican authorities and a willingness by President Vicente Fox to negotiate a farm accord, farm groups announced Monday they had dropped plans for protests and road blocks.

Instead, they want to continue talks with Fox's government until Jan. 20, at which time they will decide whether to take action. The next round of talks were scheduled for Thursday.

Mexican farmers have argued that, without the tariffs, they won't be able to compete with their U.S. counterparts.

On Monday, the National Chicken Council said it wants the U.S. and Mexican governments to extend tariffs for five more years and raise them to 99 percent for 2003 -- the level they were at in 2001. The tariffs would be slowly trimmed by 20 percent each year.

``It's much preferable than going through all these other sorts of things that can be set up as roadblocks,'' said Bill Roenigk, the council's vice president.

U.S. companies depend on Mexico as a leading poultry buyer, especially of chicken parts like wings and legs -- which are often cheaper from U.S. exporters than from Mexican producers.

Richard Mills, spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative, said U.S. and Mexican officials are holding negotiations about the tariffs because U.S. poultry companies have urged them to. He declined to give details, but officials with the U.S. poultry industry said the discussions involve possibly extending the tariffs.

In a statement sent out late Monday, Derbez said the Mexican government would look at the possibility of changing the NAFTA provisions.

``We aren't saying that we are going to ask for a revision right now,'' he said. ``We are saying that we are going to work together with the groups present here to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages that it would represent for the country.''