By Gustavo Bonato
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's northeastern poultry producers say they are not planning short-term purchases of U.S. corn, despite the government's recent decision to clear genetically modified varieties for import to ease tight supplies locally.
The northeast, a region which has the potential to buy large amounts of corn from the United States, is also relatively close to U.S. Gulf ports and would benefit from cheaper freight costs than importing from Argentina.
But after several months of tight feed supplies that forced the local meats industry to cut production by 15 percent earlier this year, poultry farms turned to Argentine corn imports to make up for scarcity at home due to restrictions on imports of U.S. GMO corn.
Last week, Brazil's biosafety regulator CTNBio approved three U.S. GMO corn varieties for import and use in animal feed, which was expected to unleash a wave of corn shipments from the Gulf ports.
"We had already closed deals for several shipments of Argentina corn before the clearance for U.S. corn occurred," the vice president of the poultry association in Ceara state, Marden Vasconcelos, told Reuters.
He said poultry farms in the state had signed deals to import six shiploads from Argentina, three of which are due to arrive from November through January. The industry has an option to purchase two more shipments in February and March from Argentina.
But Vasconcelos did not rule out purchases of corn from the United States.
"The trading companies that supply us from Argentina also have capacity to ship from the United States. Certainly we will study prices, but nothing is planned yet," he said.
The poultry industry in Pernambuco, another northeastern state, also expressed interest in U.S. corn.
"The talk is that Argentina has supplies until February. From March to June, it will have to be U.S. corn," said the vice president of Pernambuco's poultry association, Josimário Florencio Gomes.
He said Pernambuco's poultry industry is supplied through February with 15 ships scheduled from Argentina. But, he added, there is room for another 12 shiploads of corn to reach the state before Brazil starts harvesting its winter crop.
Bahia, which also has a meats industry, does not expect to import much corn but instead rely on supplies from Brazil's nearby grain belt, president of the Bahian poultry association, Dario Mascarenhas Neto, said.
Brazil's northeastern states have imported 219,900 tonnes of corn since the start of the year, compared with none over the same period of 2015, government data showed.
(Writing by Reese Ewing; Editing by Alistair Bell)