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Biden Administration Requesting Talks With Mexico on GMO Corn Import Restrictions

Ana Swanson and Linda Qiu reported on the front page of the Business section in today’s New York Times that, “The Biden administration said on Monday that it would take initial steps toward challenging a ban that Mexico has placed on shipments of genetically modified corn from the United States, restrictions that have rankled farmers and threatened a profitable export.

Mexico has planned to phase out the use of genetically modified corn, as well as an herbicide called glyphosate, by 2024. About 90 percent of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified.

Swanson and Qiu pointed out that, “On Monday, U.S. officials said that they were requesting consultations over the issue with their Mexican counterparts under the terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which governs the terms of trade in North America. Biden officials said that parties to that agreement, which was signed in 2020, had committed to basing their regulation on scientific research, and that Mexico’s ban on genetically modified corn did not conform to those promises.”

Today’s article added that, “The consultations are the first step in a process that could lead to the United States bringing a formal dispute against Mexico. The parties must meet to discuss the issue within 30 days, and, if the talks are not successful, the United States could turn to a separate dispute settlement procedure under the trade agreement. That process could result in the United States placing tariffs on Mexican products, if no other resolution can be reached.

Williams, Angelica, Claire Hutchins, Steven Zahniser, and Jayson Beckman, Feed Outlook: December 2022, FDS-22l, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, December 13, 2022.

“Senior officials with the Office of the United States Trade Representative said they were focused on finding a resolution through the talks at hand. But in a statement, the office said that it would ‘consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce U.S. rights under the U.S.M.C.A.’ if the issue was not resolved.”

The Times article added that, “The National Corn Growers Association has said that the impending ban would be ‘catastrophic’ for American corn producers and Mexican consumers alike and undermine the principles of the trade agreement. The industry has maintained that bioengineered corn is safe for human consumption, contrary to health concerns cited by Mexican officials.

Scientists, too, widely believe that genetically modified foods are safe, but consumers and Mexican officials remain wary of genetically modified crops.”

And Wall Street Journal writer Yuka Hayashi reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “‘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,’ said Katherine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative.

The Wall Street Journal (Page A5- March 7, 2023).

“The Mexican Economy Ministry said it would show that there has been no commercial impact from the decree, and will seek to resolve its differences with the U.S.

“Mexican officials have said their aim has been to protect Mexico’s native corn varieties, and that its policies are in keeping with terms of the USMCA.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Eric Martin and Mike Dorning reported yesterday that, “The Mexican government’s efforts to block imports of US GMO corn have become one of the biggest trade irritants between Mexico and its northern neighbor. Mexico is the US’s second-largest export market and the issue has mobilized President Joe Biden’s administration, as well as elected representatives in key corn-growing states including Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

“Mexico last month announced plans to eliminate a previous deadline to ban GMO corn for animals and manufactured products, with the phase-out instead depending on supply and establishing working groups with domestic and foreign businesses for an orderly transition. But Mexico will still prohibit the importation of GMO corn for flour and tortillas, as well as glyphosate, a commonly used pesticide.”

Also yesterday, Reuters writers Cassandra Garrison and David Lawder reported that, “The dispute could further strain U.S.-Mexico relations. U.S. officials say it puts some $5 billion of U.S. corn exports to Mexico at risk and could stifle biotechnology innovation at a time of high food inflation as increasingly severe weather threatens crop production.”

“Between fiscal years 2018 and 2022, 14 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports were destined for Mexico,” USDA- Economic Research Service (March 2, 2023).

Garrison and Lawder noted that, “Washington will do whatever is necessary to ensure U.S. farmers and exporters have ‘full and fair access’ to the Mexican market, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

“We remain firm in our view that Mexico’s current biotechnology trajectory is not grounded in science, which is the foundation of USMCA.”

The Reuters article noted that, “Corn for food use comprises about 21% of Mexican corn imports from the United States including both white and yellow corn, a representative from the National Corn Growers Association said, citing U.S. Grains Council data.”

“‘I’m grateful USTR has chosen to take a stand for American trade and begin the dispute process with Mexico over its ridiculous GMO corn ban,’ Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, himself an Iowa farmer, said in a statement.”

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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