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US begins USMCA dispute against Mexico’s GM corn restrictions

Agri-Pulse | 2 June 2023

US begins USMCA dispute against Mexico’s GM corn restrictions

By Bill Tomson

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced Friday that she is calling for dispute consultations with Mexico over the country’s efforts to ban genetically modified corn and its recent history of rejecting biotech seed traits.

The dispute consultations are just the first step in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s dispute process. They can lead to a third-party dispute panel that effectively takes a decision on the argument out of both countries’ hands, but Tai expressed a desire to resolve the matter in consultations.

The dispute consultations must run for 75 days before a dispute panel can be called for.

“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,” Tai said in a statement.

But the two countries have already tried to work out their differences over the Mexican decree released in February that prohibits tortilla makers from using flour made with GM white corn that food companies there import from the U.S.

The first U.S. attempt to work with Mexico over its restrictions on GM corn as well as rejections of biotech seed traits came when Tai requested “technical consultations” in March under the sanitary and phytosanitary chapter of the USMCA. Those talks — held in Mexico City — did not provide any resolution.

“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,” Tai said in a statement. “Mexico’s biotechnology policies also stifle agricultural innovation that helps American farmers respond to pressing climate challenges, increase farm productivity, and improve farmers’ livelihoods.”

Mexico has argued recently that it is now approving traits that it originally rejected, but those new approvals are coming only after seed companies had to take their cases to Mexican courts and industry officials argue that the process is unscientific and unsustainable.

The USTR’s action Friday comes amid mounting pressure from U.S. lawmakers and farm groups for the agency to begin a dispute with Mexico.

“Mexico’s actions, which are not based on sound science, have threatened the financial wellbeing of corn growers and our nation’s rural communities,” says National Corn Growers Association President Tom Haag. “We are deeply appreciative of Ambassador Katherine Tai and USTR for moving this process forward and thankful for the efforts of (Agriculture) Secretary Tom Vilsack and members of Congress for standing up for farmers in such a meaningful way.”

Earlier this week 62 House members sent a letter to Tai urging her to begin dispute proceedings.

Failure to win a dispute, the lawmakers argued, would “cede the importance of agricultural innovation and technological advancement” to Mexico, weaken USMCA and other trade agreements.

“Perhaps most importantly, lack of action would create a dangerous precedent that promises made under USMCA, and other trade agreements by extension, can be ignored without consequence,” the lawmakers said. “Mexico’s failure to adhere to its agricultural commitments under USMCA must be addressed with the same vigor that USTR has approached other aspects of the agreement, including labor. USMCA must be enforced in its entirety.”

Vilsack, in a separate statement, recognized the threat of Mexico’s restrictions to scientific progress.

“We fundamentally disagree with the position Mexico has taken on the issue of biotechnology, which has been proven to be safe for decades,” he said. “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.”

 source: Agri-Pulse