Mexican farmers are demanding a renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the USA and Canada, fearing its full introduction in 2008 will devastate maize and soybean production.

Maize growing in Mexico currently covers an area of 8.4m ha (21m acres) – almost half the national agricultural area – and 1.8m rural families depend on it as a food crop.

Soyabeans are sown on 1.6m ha (4m acres) and about 500,000 families are dependent on it.

The two crops currently have special protection, being classed as “socially sensitive” products by NAFTA.

But from 1 January 2008, all tariffs on maize and soyabean imports from the USA should be removed.

Mexican producers complain of the high subsidies that maize and soyabeans receive in the USA, including those applied via export credit programmmes.

They consider US exporters have broken the spirit of NAFTA.

They are therefore calling on the government to honour a 2003 commitment given by the country’s president Vicente Fox to delay the introduction of a free market in maize and soyabeans.

But the Mexican government says that Washington has refused to negotiate.