The U.S. and Mexico continue to engage over Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s threat to ban genetically modified corn imports, but there were strong signs from senators Wednesday that patience is wearing thin on Capitol Hill for a resolution.

“I do not think we are engaging with urgency on this issue,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. He was one of several senators to raise concerns Wednesday over the looming Mexican decree that would ban GM corn – and thus most of the 16 million metric tons that the U.S. ships there yearly – beginning in January 2024.

Grassley and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., were two of the most outspoken lawmakers at the hearing, demanding that the Biden administration begin the dispute settlement process under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in an effort to stop the decree before it's enacted.

“What are we waiting for to trigger this mechanism?” Marshall asked USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor, one of the three witnesses testifying Wednesday. “We’re tired of talking about this. … It’s time for action.”

Taylor, who traveled to Mexico City last month with Chief USTR Ag Negotiator Doug McKalip to reject Mexico’s latest proposal to compromise on the decree, stressed repeatedly at the hearing that the proposed GM corn ban is a high priority and that the administration understands the potentially dire consequences.

“I do think we are engaging with urgency on this issue,” Taylor said. “We certainly appreciate the potential impact that the proposed decree could have on our corn growers here in the United States.”

Some senators thanked Taylor and other Biden administration officials for standing up to Mexico and not agreeing to compromises that could undermine the confidence in the safety of GM crops, but they too expressed growing concern.

Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and John Thune, R-S.D., all raised the issue and reminded Taylor of the alarm spreading over the Mexican decree.

“If the (López Obrador) ban does go into effect, it would cause our overall economy to lose $74 billion … over 10 years,” Ernst said.

Marshall, speaking to Agri-Pulse on the sidelines of the hearing, said his farming constituents are demanding a resolution.

“Patience ran out about three months ago … back home,” he said. “We’re making commitments for fertilizer and corn seed a year in advance, if not longer. Time has run out.”

Grassley, though, said he is willing to give the Biden administration a little more time. When asked how much, he was very specific: 30 days.

“I appreciate what she’s saying,” Grassley said of Taylor. “They think they can work through this.”

Still, he added, a timeline needs to be set and then a dispute settlement panel triggered.

Taylor stressed that the Biden administration has made it clear to Mexico that the U.S. is willing to start a USMCA challenge, but she did not reveal a timeline on when that might happen.

When asked by Agri-Pulse if Mexico is expected to propose another compromise or resolution, Taylor said: “It’s unclear on what the next steps for Mexico will be, based upon the last round of meetings that Ambassador McKalip and I had.”

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