Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday personally warned Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador against banning genetically modified corn and later said the Biden administration expects to receive a proposal soon from Mexico on how to “engage in dialogue assuring the safety of biotechnology products.”

“We must find a way forward soon and I emphasized in no uncertain terms that - absent acceptable resolution of the issue - the U.S. government would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights under the (U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement),” Vilsack said in a statement after a meeting with Obrador. 

But Vilsack also offered some news that was reassuring to U.S. farmers who are growing increasingly concerned about the ban that’s scheduled to go into effect by January 2024. Vilsack said Obrador conceded that imports of U.S. yellow corn – almost all of which is genetically modified and needed by Mexico’s feed and livestock industries – were important to Mexico’s food security.

While the food safety acknowledgement and a new commitment to work with the U.S. on discussing the safety of GM corn represent progress, it’s still far from a solution, Vilsack said.

“We expect to have a proposal from the President’s team soon and we will evaluate closely. While we do not have a solution in hand, we will continue to engage with Mexico on this important issue,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack’s statements were greeted warmly by National Corn Growers Association President Tom Haag.

“That’s some good news for us,” he told Agri-Pulse.   

NCGA and other farm groups have been urging USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to take a more aggressive stance on the threatened Mexican ban, but Haag said he hopes it doesn’t have to come to that.

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“Our GMO products are safe and we’re hoping we can work something out before we have to worry about using other tactics,” he said.

But there is not much time left. American farmers are buying the seed now for the corn they will be sending to Mexico when the ban is scheduled to begin. U.S., Brazilian and Argentine farmers have been making it clear to Mexico for months that the country will not be able to get the corn it needs if it only accepts non-GMO.

The U.S. is the primary supplier of Mexico’s imports. USDA data shows that the U.S. exported 16.8 million tons of corn to Mexico last year, but an analysis from World Perspectives warns that the U.S. would only be able to send 2.7 million tons if the ban were strictly enforced.

“We made it abundantly clear that Mexico’s import ban would cause both massive economic losses for Mexico’s agricultural industries and citizens, as well as place an unjustified burden on U.S. farmers,” Vilsack said. “This is a critically important issue for U.S. farmers, who are rightfully and deeply concerned about the decree.”