Ag Policy Blog

Vilsack: US Moving Towards Dispute Settlement with Mexico Over Biotech Corn

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Thursday that the U.S. Trade Representative's Office continues to talk with Mexican officials, but the Biden administration will be moving towards a dispute settlement case over Mexico's moves to restrict imports of biotech corn. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

ARLINGTON, Va., (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was asked in a press conference Thursday about the U.S. dispute with Mexico over biotech corn. A reporter pointed out lawmakers and farmers are urging the Biden Administration to take the next step and ask for a formal dispute settlement consultation with Mexico under the USMCA.

"It's coming. It's coming," Vilsack replied.

The secretary spoke to reporters during the USDA Outlook Forum.

The Biden administration and Mexican officials have been going back and forth about biotech corn for a year. Mexico earlier this month essentially issued an immediate ban on the use of biotech corn for products used as food such as tortillas.

Asked for more details on the situation, Vilsack said the U.S. Trade Representative's Office will essentially begin having what are called SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) conversations and consultations. "And that process will begin very soon. That is an information sharing process, which I think is important. And then following that, assuming no resolution, you go to a formal process on the USMCA."

Vilsack added that the U.S. and Mexico are headed towards a formal dispute settlement case under the USMCA.

"That is going to happen, because we're essentially, in a circumstance where there, this is not a situation that lends itself to compromise," the secretary said. "And the reason it doesn't is, from our perspective, you're talking about a fundamental principle to our trade, our understanding of trade, which is that you need a science- based, rules-based system. And if you begin to inject things that are not scientific, or not supported by science, it's a very slippery slope. And it creates a circumstance where it would not only be difficult for us in terms of our relationship with Mexico. It would be difficult in terms of our relationship with all our trading partners. And we're just not going to go down that road."

Earlier this month, Mexico's government withdrew its earlier decree setting a 2024 date to ban glyphosate and genetically modified corn, but issued a new modified stance to immediately ban the use of transgenic corn used for human food.

The new decree is limited to white corn and "prohibits the use of genetically modified corn for dough and tortillas." In bold, the Mexican government stated this "does not affect trade or imports in any way, among other reason, because Mexico is self-sufficient in the production of white corn free of transgenics."

The decree adds, "What it is about is consolidating such sovereignty and food security in a central input in the culture of Mexicans." The decree also sets up new research "on the possible impacts on people's health of genetically modified corn." The decree stated such studies will be carried out with health agencies in other countries.

The National Corn Growers Association immediately called for the Biden administration to move towards a dispute settlement case with Mexico.

"The Biden administration has been more than patient with Mexico as U.S. officials have sought to enforce a rules-based trading system and stand up for American farmers," said National Corn Growers Association President Tom Haag on Feb. 14. "The integrity of USMCA, signed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador himself, is at stake. Singling out corn – our number one ag export to Mexico – and hastening an import ban on numerous food-grade uses makes USMCA a dead letter unless it's enforced."

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