By Jerry Hagstrom, DTN Political Correspondent, and Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- Corn growers and the grain industry credited U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai following her announcement that the United States has requested dispute settlement consultations with Mexico on "certain Mexican measures concerning products of agricultural biotechnology" under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
The issue has been a key focus for corn producers ever since Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador began pushing decrees in his government to ban imports of biotech corn. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) had been among those calling for Tai's office to take formal steps to challenge Obrador's decree.
"Mexico's actions, which are not based on sound science, have threatened the financial wellbeing of corn growers and our nation's rural communities," said NCGA President Tom Haag. "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."
The U.S. Grains Council also cited its support for challenging Mexico's latest decree, which would specifically ban the export of white corn to Mexico. The Mexican decree risks disrupting decades of beneficial trade between the two countries, the group stated.
"The result of this decree as written will 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," the U.S. Grains Council stated. "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."
MEXICO IS TOP MARKET
According to USDA's latest export figures, Mexico remains the top market for all U.S. corn exports in the current marketing year with more than 11 million metric tons (mmt) in sales -- more than one-third of all corn exports -- and another 3.25 mmt in outstanding sales pending.
Beyond a specific ban on white corn, Mexico's decree also called for gradually shifting livestock feed from biotech corn imports to other feedstuffs.
Tai's announcement comes just a day after a group of 62 Republican House members had written her a letter calling on the Biden administration to move ahead with a formal USMCA dispute panel.
Under USMCA dispute settlement rules, a consultation involves private talks. If the U.S. and Mexico do not come to terms in 30 days, the U.S. can request a formal panel to then rule on Mexico's decree and the U.S. case against it.
In the consultations request, USTR noted, "Since August 2021, Mexico has rejected certain authorization applications covering corn, canola, cotton, and soybean GE (genetically engineered) events. In the context of Mexico's regime governing GE products, this means it is illegal to import and sell in Mexico products that include the rejected events."
Tai added, "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. Mexico's biotechnology policies also stifle agricultural innovation that helps American farmers respond to pressing climate challenges, increase farm productivity, and improve farmers' livelihoods."
Tai further added, "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."
USDA'S VILSACK ADDS SUPPORT
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added his support for USTR's actions. "USDA supports success for all farmers, and that means embracing fair, open, science- and rules-based trade," Vilsack said. "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."
Vilsack added, "We 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."
USTR explained, "These consultations regard measures set out in Mexico's Feb. 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."
The full request for a dispute settlement can be found here: