By Caroline Stauffer
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil is shipping corn to South Africa, a traditional maize exporter suffering from an El Niño-related drought, as it seeks new markets for its growing corn production.
Brazil exported 321,662 tonnes of corn to South Africa in 2015, up from none the previous year, data from the Trade Ministry showed on Wednesday.
Three more cargoes are on the way or likely to leave Brazilian ports soon, according to shipping data as well as a South African trade source.
The exports are an indication of Brazil's growing influence as a corn producer with two annual crops and ample room to plant new fields.
The figures are also indicative of the global trade disruption caused by the El Niño climate phenomenon. South Africa may need to import as much as 5 million tonnes of maize this year, roughly half of its requirements, due to its worst drought in three decades, the country's largest producer group said on Wednesday.
India, another traditional corn exporter suffering from drought, issued a tender to import 320,000 tonnes of yellow corn free of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), European traders said on Tuesday.
Brazilian trade data showed 4,020 tonnes of corn were exported to India from January to November 2015, up sharply from 126 tonnes in the same period in 2014, though corn exports to India were not included in the full-year report.
Ministry representatives were not immediately available to explain that omission.
No Brazilian corn cargoes are currently scheduled to sail to India.
Brazil is the world's No. 2 corn exporter after the United States, and its overall corn exports in 2015 totaled a record 30.7 million tonnes thanks in part to a weaker local currency making them more affordable, the cereal exporters' association Anec said.
Buyers will soon have to look elsewhere for corn, however, as Brazil's ports will switch from corn to soybean exports in late February or early March.
Paulo Molinari, a corn analyst at Brazil's Safras & Mercado consultancy, said Brazil would likely export 5.5 million tonnes of already-sold corn in January and then see exports fall off in February, with new corn sales starting up again in June or July.
But the plentiful corn supply and high demand may delay the start of soy export season, said Sergio Mendes, director-general of Anec, who also said he thought corn exports would continue well into March.
(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg and Gustavo Bonato in Sao Paulo, editing by G Crosse)