There aren’t any compromises that the Biden administration is willing to make when it comes to Mexico’s effort to curtail its imports of genetically modified corn from the U.S., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.
“No, there’s no reason to compromise,” Vilsack told reporters, when asked if the U.S. was preparing a counteroffer to Mexico’s latest proposal on scaling back a ban on GM corn imports. “It’s not about compromising.”
Vilsack, who addressed the media after speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said he understood Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “concern about the heritage and culture of white corn in Mexico,” but Vilsack also stressed the need to adhere to science and commitments made under trade deals.
Obrador met with President Joe Biden Monday in Mexico City, but there was no indication from a White House summary of the meeting that the biotech corn issue came up, only a glancing reference to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.
"The two presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement as the foundation for North American competitiveness and the basis for economic prosperity and social development," the White House summary said.
Obrador issued a decree back in 2020 to ban GM corn imports by January, 2024, but the Mexican president began offering to soften that ban in November when it became clear that Mexico would not be able to source the amount of non-GM imports the country needs.
It was in late November that Obrador told Vilsack that he was willing to be flexible and postpone the ban on feed corn from the U.S. while new safety studies were conducted. But, Obrador stressed, that flexibility would not apply to white corn that goes into the Mexican food supply for products like tortillas.
The U.S. exports primarily feed corn to Mexico, but American farmers also supply plenty of white corn to Mexico’s food processors and tortilla makers and most of that grain is genetically modified.
Vilsack said he made it clear to Obrador after that Nov. 28 meeting in Mexico City that the U.S. was willing to file a dispute under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
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Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos, Economy Secretary H.E. María Luisa Albores González and other officials flew to Washington in December and presented a new compromise to Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
The visiting delegation laid out a proposal to alter the decree. The delegation, according to industry sources, said Mexico was prepared to postpone the decree for a year, reconsider the country’s rejections of petitions for acceptance of several GM corn traits and exempt feed corn from the ban. While Mexico would not outright ban imports of GM white corn, it would bar domestic food companies from using it to make tortillas.
Vilsack said Monday that the U.S. pledged to give its response to Mexico by Jan. 15, but he also asserted that the U.S. position is unmoving.
“And the message is pretty simple, which is we believe in a science-based system,” Vilsack said. “We understand and appreciate some of the challenges that (Obrador) has outlined …. But at the end of the day, the agreement we reached with Mexico and Canada is in support of a science-based system.”
When it comes to white corn and acceptance by Mexican tortilla makers and consumers, Vilsack said the Mexican government should let the free market decide.
“And I’m reasonably certain that the (Mexican) market down there is going to want white corn produced by Mexican producers,” he said. “That’s non-GMO for their tortillas and that’s what the market is saying. And so the market will respond to that.”