Ag Secretary Visits Mexico for Corn Trade

Vilsack Expects Corn Remedy After Meeting With Mexican President

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Mexico bought 16.8 mmt of U.S. corn last year, but Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador introduced a decree to ban biotech crops. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Mexico on Monday, emphasizing the increasing concern among farmers and the Biden administration over the Mexican policy. (DTN file photo by Matt Wilde)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday to discuss genetically modified corn, a sign of how alarming the Biden administration considers Lopez Obrador's plans to ban biotech corn and other biotechnology products by January 2024.

Following growing concerns about a potential ban on U.S. biotech corn exports to Mexico, Vilsack said the Mexican president reiterated the value of yellow corn imports for his country.

"For example, President Lopez Obrador reaffirmed the importance of yellow corn imports for Mexico's food security," Vilsack said. "He also discussed a potential process in which we can exchange information and engage in dialogue, assuring the safety of biotechnology products.

Vilsack said he expects a proposal from the Mexican government soon to resolve the situation.

"While we do not have a solution in hand, we will continue to engage with Mexico on this important issue," Vilsack said.

Over the past marketing year, Mexico bought 16.8 million metric tons (mmt) of corn, keeping it as the top export market for corn with sales valued at just over $5 billion, according to the U.S. Grains Council.

"The meetings provided a venue to raise the United States government's and our producers' deep concerns around President Lopez Obrador's 2020 decree to phase out the use and importation of biotech corn and other biotechnology products by January 2024," Vilsack said. "The president's phase-out decree has the potential to substantially disrupt trade, harm farmers on both sides of the border and significantly increase costs for Mexican consumers.

"We must find a way forward soon and I emphasized in no uncertain terms that -- absent acceptable resolution of the issue -- the U.S. government would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights under the USMCA [the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.]

Vilsack added, "We made it abundantly clear that Mexico's import ban would cause both massive economic losses for Mexico's agricultural industries and citizens, as well as place an unjustified burden on U.S. farmers."

Vilsack added the biotechnology decree would have a significant impact on the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship, which involved more than $63 billion in two-way trade in 2021 and is expected to be higher for 2022.

"The phase-out of biotechnology products, as outlined in the decree, could also stifle the important innovations we need to help our farmers adapt to a changing climate.

"The United States Department of Agriculture and the wider U.S. government have consistently and proactively pursued cooperation and consultation with Mexico to resolve this issue and time is now running short. Some progress was made today."

The National Corn Growers Association said the trip "showed how strongly Secretary Vilsack feels about this issue."

"We are very appreciative of Secretary Vilsack for taking the lead on this issue that is so important to American corn growers," said NCGA CEO Jon Doggett.

"Today's meeting shows that the Biden administration is listening to NCGA and American corn grower leaders and that Secretary Vilsack is willing to go to the mat for America's farmers. This is an extremely important development."

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

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Jerry Hagstrom