The Biden administration’s chief agricultural negotiator, Ambassador Doug McKalip, sees signs that Mexico wants to avoid a protracted trade battle over biotechnology.
McKalip says Mexico is quietly granting approvals to applications for new genetically modified plant traits. The approvals came about the same time Mexico issued a revised new decree to block imports of GM corn used in domestic food production.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum on Thursday, McKalip said Mexico appears “interested in finding a solution. I think they’d like to avoid going to a dispute panel.”
Officials with USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative have said repeatedly the U.S. would be willing to begin the dispute process under USMCA if it needs to.
Take note: Mexico granted the recent approvals without publicly making any official announcements, one source tells Agri-Pulse. Instead, Mexico has only been notifying individual companies about the approvals.
Taylor: US-Mexico trade issue a matter of ‘principle’
It’s not just the economics of a lost market for U.S. corn producers at stake if Mexico is allowed to ban genetically modified corn. According to USDA Trade Undersecretary Alexis Taylor, the very foundation of science-based trade is on the table.
“There is a principle issue here,” Taylor told reporters. “A science-based trading system is what the global trading system is built on, and it is certainly what the USMCA is built upon.”
When it comes to the safety of different types of genetically modified corn, soybeans or other commodities, she argues “the science is the same. And we fundamentally and very strongly believe that.”
USDA economist sees ‘good year’ ahead for farmers
USDA is warning that there is still a high level of uncertainty for the U.S. farm economy due to inflation in the U.S and globally, the continuing war in Ukraine, and other challenges. Even so, the department is projecting the U.S. will be producing and exporting a lot more grain and oilseeds for the 2023-2024 marketing year.
USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer, who delivered his annual forecast at the Outlook Forum, says the U.S. farm economy should remain relatively strong in 2023.
"I think that 2023 is shaping up to be a good year, and that's following 2022, which was a great year. ... It's lower than last year but still going to be above the long-term trend,” Meyer says in an interview for Agri-Pulse Newsmakers.
Top Republican slams administration on ag trade deficit
At the same time USDA released those bullish projections for crops that will be harvested this fall, the department also cut its near-term, fiscal 2023 forecast for U.S. ag exports to $184.5 billion. That reduction, a $5.5 billion cut from the November forecast, translates to an agricultural trade deficit of $14.5 billion. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The Senate Ag Committee’s top Republican, John Boozman of Arkansas, claims the deficit is a sign of the administration’s inattention to trade policy.
“Global agricultural markets are highly competitive. Our farmers and ranchers need the administration to actively engage and aggressively advocate for them on the world stage,” Boozman said in a statement.
USDA eyes climate-smart projects for key farm data
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is pushing ecosystem markets and climate-smart commodities as potential new income streams for farmers. The question is how big those income streams could be.
Meyer says in an Agri-Pulse Newsmakers interview that USDA expects to learn a lot from the $3 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative and the data gleaned from the projects being funded:
"This network is going to gather all the information,” he said. “What were the challenges? What's the actual environmental benefits? How can we quantify them? How can we assure consumers that they're getting the end-product attribute that they want? And how can producers gain value from it?”
Newsmakers will be available today at Agri-Pulse.com.
Fertilizer prices down, but supply concerns linger
During USDA’s forum, a panel of fertilizer market experts presented a mixed picture of the price and supply of the nitrogen, phosphates and potash used by growers around the world.
Prices “have pretty consistently declined” since the middle of 2022, said Laura Cross, director of the International Fertilizer Association’s Market Intelligence Service.
Supply is relatively strong, she added, but “we’re not out of the woods yet.” Both she and Josh Linville, vice president for fertilizer at StoneX, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had pinched supplies of potash because big producer Belarus is a Russian ally, and a pipeline that shipped ammonia from Russia, through Ukraine to the Black Sea, has been shut down for a year.
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Another potential issue is the lack of new capacity coming online, they said.
Specialty crop alliance pushes farm bill plan
Groups representing growers of hundreds of fruit, vegetable and other specialty crops have agreed on an ambitious set of proposals for the next farm bill.
The sector has long been something of an afterthought in farm bill debates. But the proposals from the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance touch on numerous titles of the bill, including conservation, nutrition, crop insurance and rural development.
Take note: The alliance is seeking two new programs to accelerate the automation of cultivating and harvesting specialty crops. Automation will be a major focus of the sector in the farm bill debate.
Read our report on the proposals here.
He said it. “These are food security issues, and that’s why we’ve got to get this right.” – Mike Joyner, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, on the importance of the proposals issued by the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.
Bill Tomson, Spencer Chase, Steve Davies and Lydia Johnson contributed to this report.
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