MEXICO CITY (AP)--Economy Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said late April 18 that Mexico will lift anti-dumping import duties on high fructose corn syrup from the United States, but will limit tariff-free imports to 163,000 tons (148,000 metric tons) per year.

Derbez told a news conference that the import quota matches the amount of Mexican sugar that the United States allows to be imported tariff-free. Any fructose imports over the new quota will pay an import tariff of 210%, he said.

Derbez said that Mexico is seeking access to the U.S. market for all of its excess sugar production, as stipulated in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A NAFTA panel April 15 ordered Mexico to lift the antidumping duties because they were incompatible with Mexico's international trade commitments.

Mexico imported about 385,000 tons (350,000 metric tons) of fructose from the United States last year.

Derbez said the decision to limit fructose imports seeks to support debt-troubled domestic sugar farmers, without violating the spirit of NAFTA.

President Vicente Fox and his government have clashed in recent months with a Congress that has historically supported tariffs to block the importation of U.S. fructose.

The government in February suspended for five months a 20% tax on beverages made with fructose instead of sugar, which the Congress passed as it made modifications to Fox's tax reform package late last year.

Derbez said the tax hurt Mexico's soft drink industry and was "not the adequate strategy" to resolve the fructose controversy.

Derbez said the government will continue to discuss the issue with legislators, and hopes to "show Congress that this is the right path to take."

Mexico is expected to generate a surplus of 715,000 tons (650,000 metric tons) of sugar this year, with production from the 2001-2002 harvest seen around 5.5 million tons (5 million metric tons).

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