US seeks formal talks in Mexican GM corn dispute

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Kagenmi
© GettyImages/Kagenmi

Related tags Mexico Gm Corn trade agreement

The US is looking for formal trade talks with Mexico over the country’s plans to restrict imports of genetically modified corn and other agricultural biotechnology products.

The office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced the request for technical talks yesterday after months of informal discussions with Mexican officials on the country’s biotech policies failed to deliver.

A decree, issued in late 2020, by Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, outlined a strategy to phase out the use and importation of genetically modified corn and other products by January 31, 2024.

A big user of yellow corn imports for livestock feed, last month saw the Mexican economy department announce the publication of a revised decree​, one which mentions the ‘gradual substitution’ of GM feed corn but without setting an actual timeline for doing so. However, the new decree does not appear to stop the ban on corn for human consumption.

To date, Mexico has been the world’s second largest importer of GM corn​, mainly from the US, Brazil and Argentina, according to USDA data. Imports hit more than 18m metric tons (MT) in MY 2020/21.

Billions of dollars in ag trade ‘under threat’

In January this year, the US sent a request to Mexico under the sanitary and phytosanitary measures of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) for “an explanation of the reasons for” and “pertinent relevant information regarding” certain Mexican measures concerning biotech products. Mexico provided a written response on February 14, which the US said will help inform technical consultations.

“We hope these consultations will be productive as we continue to work with Mexico to address these issues,” said US trade representative, Katherine Tai.

Mexico’s biotech policies threaten to disrupt billions of dollars in agricultural trade, she warned. “They will stifle the innovation that is necessary to tackle the climate crisis and food security challenges if left unaddressed.”

Weighing in on the issue also was US ag secretary, Tom Vilsack: “Mexico’s current biotechnology trajectory is not grounded in science, which is the foundation of the USMCA.”

The USTR and USDA officials said they will consider all options including taking formal steps to enforce US rights under the USMCA if the issues are not resolved.

In January, the US National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) applauded the stance of the Biden administration in this respect, saying banning biotech corn would deliver a blow to American farmers and exacerbate current food insecurity in Mexico by drastically raising prices for corn, basic foods and other critical products derived from corn in the Mexican economy. 

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