The U.S. needs to take enforcement action under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to address Mexico’s continued refusal to approve genetically modified crop traits and counter Mexico’s threat to ban GMO corn from the human food supply, Biotechnology Innovation Organization President and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath told lawmakers Tuesday.

McMurry-Heath’s message to members of the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing was well-received by lawmakers, several of whom expressed consternation with Mexico's anti-GMO stance under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“Mexico’s failure to perform scientific regulatory assessments in over three years, its disregard for due process and transparency, and its decree to arbitrarily ban key technologies is a direct violation of both the letter and spirit of USMCA and commitments to the WTO,” McMurry-Heath said in written testimony. “These actions require a strong response from the U.S. government.”

She expressed appreciation that U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai raised the issue in recent meetings with Mexican Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier and other officials, but stressed that won’t be enough.

McMurry-Heath said that with “little indication from Mexico that it will adhere to its USMCA commitments, BIO strongly urges USTR to begin taking enforcement action on Mexico’s treatment of agriculture biotechnology. An enforcement case would at a minimum provide a framework and timeline to resolve the … delays in biotechnology approvals and the Dec. 31, 2020, decree. Without a process, BIO and its members fear (Mexico) will continue the status quo, and possibly broaden the scope of the decree to additional agricultural products, which would compound the impact on U.S. trade and future innovation.”

Specifically, the BIO president and CEO said she is worried Mexico’s increasing intransigence towards GMOs will translate into a barrier for products produced using gene editing.

“BIO members are actively leveraging genome editing techniques to help plants, animal and microbes become more resilient to pests, diseases, and extreme weather, and reduce usage of agricultural inputs,” she said. “While the global regulatory landscape is emerging, several agricultural producing countries, including most of the Western Hemisphere, have established regulatory pathways for products derived through genome editing. Mexico stands out as the major exception.”

Furthermore, Mexico’s refusal to approve new GMO traits is already costing U.S. farmers, exporters and technology companies a lot of money.

BIO is currently conducting an analysis on the economic impact of Mexico’s refusal to approve new biotech traits. While the results are not in yet, McMurry-Heath says she expects the dollar amount will be significant. BIO published an analysis in 2018 on China’s lengthy delays for biotech trait approval.

“The analysis showed that delays in China decreased U.S. farm income by $5 billion and cost nearly 34,000 jobs between 2011 and 2016,” she told lawmakers.

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As to Mexico, the complete refusal to issue new approvals has created a bottleneck, blocking commercialization of 23 traits in apples, canola, corn, soybeans and potatoes.

Meanwhile, the dispute process continues between the U.S. and Canada over Canada’s operation of new dairy tariff-rate quotas under USMCA.

Allan Huttema, chairman of the board of directors for the Northwest Dairy Association and Darigold, told the committee that the dispute panel is a necessary step if U.S. dairy farmers are going to reap the benefits of USMCA that they were promised.

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