Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday that the U.S. is prepared to call for a dispute resolution panel under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement unless Mexico backs off its plan to bar at least some U.S. exports of biotech corn.

That’s the message Vilsack says he will have for Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard when they meet Friday.

Ahead of the meeting, the Mexican government has floated a proposal to significantly change the country’s presidential decree on GM corn, according to sources. Mexico would postpone the implementation of the decree by a year to January 2025, promise to reconsider rejections of GM corn traits and allow the importation of GM food-grade corn with the understanding that food manufacturers would be barred from using it.

Mexican lobbyists and industry representatives were briefed orally on the new proposal without seeing anything in writing, according to sources.

It’s unclear if this proposal will be conveyed to Vilsack on Friday.

Vilsack told reporters Thursday that he hopes Mexico delivers on a promised proposal that “rectifies concerns we have,” but also stressed that if “the proposal doesn’t meet what we think is consistent with USMCA, we will absolutely continue to work with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to begin the process of triggering whatever needs to be triggered under USMCA, and that hasn’t changed. It’s not going to change.”

Vilsack said it was about three weeks ago - during his trip to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Ebrard and others – when he was promised Mexico would present a plan on how to address U.S. opposition to the ban on GM corn. Vilsack said he was told on Nov. 26 that Mexico would deliver the proposal in about two weeks.

The U.S. corn sector and members of Congress are urging the Biden administration to take action.

The National Corn Growers Association wrote President Joe Biden this week, demanding a timeline for action under USMCA, if Mexico does not retract the country’s presidential decree on GM corn. The decree is scheduled to go into effect in January 2024.

NCGA urged Biden to “empower (U.S. Trade Representative) Katherine Tai to work with Secretary Vilsack to set a firm, quick timeline with Mexico to withdraw the decree or initiate a case under the biotechnology provisions of (USMCA), and that you do so without agreeing to a ban of any form of biotech corn, including white corn that is used for human consumption.”

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Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and 24 of their colleagues in the Senate fired off a letter Wednesday to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to press for action against Mexico’s plan to ban genetically modified corn.

“While we appreciate the efforts of USTR and USDA to resolve this issue by engaging with Mexican officials, we also encourage the administration to consider all options available in an effort to hold Mexico to their trade commitments including pursuing a dispute settlement process through USMCA," the senators wrote. 

The Biden administration appears ready to do that.

Vilsack stressed to reporters that he hopes to see Mexico adhere “to the terms and conditions of USMCA or a process in which we trigger the dispute resolution of the USMCA.”

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