The U.S. is taking the first procedural step that could lead to a dispute resolution panel over Mexico’s anti-biotech stance on corn imports, according to a statement released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Monday.
The U.S. is requesting “technical consultations” with Mexico under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures chapter of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. If those technical talks fail, the U.S. has the right under USMCA’s Dispute Settlement chapter – chapter 31 – to request a new round of consultations. And if those consultations fail, the U.S. then has the right to request a third-party panel to rule on the dispute.
Now that the U.S. has requested technical talks, both sides have 30 days to begin the discussions.
“The United States has repeatedly conveyed our serious concerns with Mexico’s biotechnology policies and the importance of adopting a science-based approach that complies with its USMCA commitments,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said. "Mexico’s policies threaten to disrupt billions of dollars in agricultural trade and they will stifle the innovation that is necessary to tackle the climate crisis and food security challenges if left unaddressed. We hope these consultations will be productive as we continue to work with Mexico to address these issues.”
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack weighed in on USTR's request.
“While we appreciate the sustained, active engagement with our Mexican counterparts at all levels of government, we remain firm in our view that Mexico’s current biotechnology trajectory is not grounded in science, which is the foundation of USMCA," he said. "We remain unequivocal in our stance that the science around agricultural biotechnology has been settled for decades."
The technical consultations requested Monday by USTR focus on Mexico’s effective ban on GM white corn imports from the U.S. that are used for tortillas and other food, Mexico’s recent rejection of applications for Mexico to approve new GM events, and Mexico’s intent to eventually replace all GM feed corn with non-GM feed corn, senior USTR officials said Monday.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued his first decree threatening U.S. corn exports in January 2024, but he was vague about what kind of corn would be banned. López Obrador’s second decree was published on Feb. 13 and immediately prohibited tortilla makers from using GM white corn.
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“We are pleased USTR is taking the next step to hold Mexican officials accountable for the commitments they made under USMCA, which include accepting both biotech and non-biotech commodities,” National Corn Growers Association President Tom Haag said Monday. “Mexico’s position on biotech corn is already creating uncertainty, so we need U.S officials to move swiftly and do everything it takes to eliminate this trade barrier in the very near future.”
The U.S. exported 15.4 million metric tons of corn to Mexico in 2022 – about 1.6 million of which is white corn – according to USDA data. Almost all of it was grown from genetically engineered seeds.
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