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US begins USMCA dispute against Mexico's biotech corn restrictions

Consultations regard certain Mexican measures substituting the use of biotechnology corn in products for human consumption and animal feed.

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On June 2, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai requested formal dispute settlement consultations under the  United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)  regarding Mexico’s presidential decree on genetically modified corn.

According to the USTR, these consultations regard measures set out in Mexico’s February 13, 2023 decree, specifically the ban on use of biotechnology corn in tortillas or dough, and the instruction to Mexican government agencies to gradually substitute — i.e., ban — the use of biotechnology corn in all products for human consumption and for animal feed. 

The consultations also regard rejections of applications for authorization covering the importation and sale of certain biotechnology products. Mexico’s measures appear to be inconsistent with several of its obligations in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures and Market Access chapters of the USMCA, noted the USTR.

“The United States has repeatedly conveyed its concerns that Mexico’s biotechnology policies are not based on science and threaten to disrupt U.S. exports to Mexico to the detriment of agricultural producers, which in turn can exacerbate food security challenges," said Ambassador Katherine Tai. â€śMexico’s biotechnology policies also stifle agricultural innovation that helps American farmers respond to pressing climate challenges, increase farm productivity, and improve farmers’ livelihoods.

"We will continue to work with the Mexican government through these consultations to resolve our concerns and help ensure consumers can continue to access safe and affordable food and agricultural products," she noted.

Mexico defends decree, says it's in compliance with USMCA

As recently as May 30, Mexico’s agriculture minister said the decree was in compliance with the USCMA.

After Mexico's February decree, the U.S. requested a trade dispute panel under the USMCA agreement as the next step to address Washington's concerns over Mexico's plan to limit imports of genetically modified corn.

Technical consultations are the first step toward a dispute resolution panel under the USMCA. Once a dispute settlement is filed, a group of objective experts will hear the case and make final determinations based on the commitments both parties signed as part of the free trade agreement.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Tom Haag said Mexico’s actions are not based on sound science and have threatened the financial wellbeing of U.S. corn producers.

“We are deeply appreciative of Ambassador Katherine Tai and USTR for moving this process forward and thankful for the efforts of Secretary Tom Vilsack and members of Congress for standing up for farmers in such a meaningful way," said Haag.

The U.S. Grains Council agreed.

"The decree violates Mexico’s obligations to use science and risk-based policies to regulate biotechnology in a transparent way and threatens the mutually beneficial trading relationship our two countries have had for decades," noted the U.S. Grains Council in a release.

USGC: Decree would raise corn prices in Mexico

USGC said the result of the biotech decree as written would be to raise corn prices in Mexico, further exacerbating food security issues there, while also trying to block biotechnology as an important tool U.S. farmers can use to sustainably feed the world.

"We will do all in our power to support the U.S. government’s consultations so free and fair trade of corn between the United States and Mexico continues as was agreed to in USMCA," said USGC.

USGC said it supports the U.S. government’s action today as the decree explicitly bans the export of biotech white corn to Mexico.

In January, the Mexican government announced a temporary 50% tax on white corn exports, arguing it is necessary for the grain to remain in the country to guarantee supply and price stability. The levy is in force until June 30.

U.S. ag secretary: GM crops are science-based, sound and safe

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the USDA supports success for all farmers, and that means embracing fair, open, science- and rules-based trade.

"In this spirit, the USMCA was written to ensure that producers in all three countries have full and fair access to each other’s markets," said Vilsack. â€śWe fundamentally disagree with the position Mexico has taken on the issue of biotechnology, which has been proven to be safe for decades. 

"Through this action, we are exercising our rights under USMCA while supporting innovation, nutrition security, sustainability, and the mutual success of our farmers and producers," he said.

Timeline leading to U.S. request for a dispute settlement

The USTR said the U.S. request for a USMCA dispute settlement consultation follows extensive engagement by the U.S. with the government of Mexico on its biotechnology policies.

The U.S. used the tools provided by the USMCA in attempting to resolve concerns with Mexico’s biotechnology policies, including meetings of the USMCA Free Trade Commission, SPS Committee, and Biotechnology Working Group, noted the USTR.

  • January 30, 2023: The U.S. sent a formal, written request to Mexico under the USMCA SPS Chapter (Article 9.6.14) for “an explanation of the reasons for” and “pertinent relevant information regarding” certain Mexican measures concerning biotechnology products. Mexico provided a written response on February 14.
  • March 2023: The U.S. requested and held technical consultations with Mexico regarding its biotechnology measures under the USMCA SPS chapter, but the consultations did not resolve the matter.

Mexico is a top market for corn, the number one agricultural export from the U.S., which has led to strong concerns over how the ban would impact U.S. farmers, rural economies and food security for the people of Mexico.

Related reading

U.S. challenges biotech corn ban with Mexico

'All options' considered in biotech corn dispute with Mexico

Vilsack: No compromise with Mexico on biotech corn

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