U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told Mexican government officials Wednesday that the country needs to resume its stalled process of approving genetically modified crops and pressed for an update on the country’s progress on increasing access for U.S. potatoes.

Tai stressed the importance of agricultural trade between the two countries and highlighted the two trade frictions in a meeting in Mexico City with Mexican Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos and Mexican Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier, according to a statement released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement has been widely lauded for its biotechnology chapter that is aimed at supporting cooperation on the science that corn, cotton and soybean farmers widely depend on, but Mexico has not approved a new ag trait since May of 2018. 

Furthermore, Mexico recently published a decree stating that the country will outlaw the use of genetically modified corn for human consumption.

“Mexico has not issued a new biotech approval in over three years and, if this continues, farmers won’t have access to these tools,” said Matt O’Mara, vice president of international affairs for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. “BIO looks forward to working with the administration to support efforts that resolve this issue in a timely manner, including USMCA enforcement as necessary.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he is confident convincing Mexico to stop hindering biotech acceptance will be a priority for the USTR.

“I know what we’re going to be fighting for,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We’re going to be fighting for getting our GMOs into Mexico.”

Separately, National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles tells Agri-Pulse he’s pleased Tai is pressing Mexican officials on allowing more U.S. spuds into the country.

Mexico’s top court issued a ruling in late April that would allow the Mexican government to lift a barrier to imports of U.S. fresh potatoes. Mexico agreed about 20 years ago to partially open its borders to U.S. potatoes, allowing them only to be sold within 26 kilometers of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The two countries eventually reached a deal to allow full access to U.S. potatoes, but Mexican potato farmers filed lawsuits and succeeded in halting the increased trade. The Mexican government appealed the ruling and the country’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor.

But the government still has not yet followed through and allowed for the increased trade.

“U.S. potato growers appreciate the continued vigilance of Ambassador Tai and Secretary Vilsack to ensure this 20-plus year potato market access dispute finally crosses the finish line,” Quarles said Wednesday. “Over the past two decades, we’ve heard Mexico make numerous promises about living up to their end of trade agreements only to backtrack under domestic political pressure and continue to prevent fresh U.S. potatoes from gaining full access to their country.

"We continue to urge the Ambassador and Secretary to maintain a ‘trust but verify’ stance with Mexico to ensure their market isn’t just temporarily opened, but instead remains open to high quality fresh U.S. potatoes,” he added.

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