Mexico’s stand against GMO corn sparks US trade dispute

Mexico's firm stance on banning genetically modified (GM) corn imports, a policy that has prompted the United States to escalate the matter to a dispute settlement panel under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

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The tranquil cornfields that sprawl across North America have unexpectedly become the epicenter of a burgeoning trade dispute between the United States and Mexico. At the heart of the contention is Mexico’s firm stance on banning genetically modified (GM) corn imports, a policy that has prompted the United States to escalate the matter to a dispute settlement panel under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Mexico’s Economy Ministry has voiced its intention to robustly defend its GM corn policies, asserting on social media platform X that these policies align with international trade obligations. This declaration sets a defiant tone against the backdrop of the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) accusations that Mexico’s decree infringes upon the scientific standards mandated by the USMCA.

The USTR, led by Katherine Tai, contends that Mexico’s restrictions on GM corn, especially those used for human consumption like dough and tortillas, lack a scientific foundation and contravene the USMCA’s stipulations. “It is critical that Mexico eliminate its USMCA-inconsistent biotechnology measures,” Tai stated, highlighting the potential of innovative agricultural tools to tackle climate and food security challenges.

Amidst this dispute, Mexico’s substantial importation of US GM corn, predominantly for livestock feed and valued at around $5 billion annually, hangs in the balance. Mexican authorities argue that biotech corn poses risks to indigenous corn varieties and may have deleterious health impacts—a claim disputed by the US.

The controversy extends beyond GM corn, with Mexico also moving to ban glyphosate, a herbicide deemed hazardous by Mexican authorities despite global regulatory bodies affirming its safety. This stance has garnered support from various quarters, including Canada, which has expressed concerns similar to those of the US regarding Mexico’s agricultural biotechnology policies.

The dispute has cast a shadow over the Chicago Board of Trade, with corn futures experiencing fluctuations amid concerns that US exports to Mexico could be jeopardized. This economic undercurrent underscores the far-reaching implications of the dispute, extending beyond diplomatic corridors to affect global agricultural markets.

Efforts to resolve the disagreement through formal consultations have proven fruitless, propelling the US to seek arbitration. This decision has been met with applause from US corn trade groups and bipartisan lawmakers, who view Mexico’s policies as detrimental to US agricultural interests.

As the USMCA mandates, a five-person panel will now be convened to adjudicate the dispute, with panelists drawn from a pre-approved roster of experts. This process, which has previously ruled on matters ranging from Canadian dairy quotas to automotive rules of origin, now faces a contentious issue that strikes at the core of agricultural trade and biotechnology.

Amidst this complex web of trade, science, and policy, the voices of those most affected—farmers and consumers in both nations—resonate, calling for a resolution that upholds not only the letter of international agreements but also the spirit of fair and sustainable agriculture.

“We are deeply appreciative of USTR for standing up for America’s corn growers,” expressed Tom Haag of the National Corn Growers Association.

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