September 28, 2022
US farmers call on government to oppose Mexico's upcoming ban on GM corn
US farmers are urging their government to challenge a Mexican ban on genetically modified (GM) corn under the terms of a regional free trade agreement, threatening both countries with billions of dollars in economic damage, Reuters reported.
GM corn and the herbicide glyphosate would be phased out by 2024 under an order issued by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in late 2020. Supporters of the ban argue that GM seeds can contaminate Mexico's centuries-old native varieties and cite studies showing glyphosate's harmful effects.
Although Mexico claims to have invented modern corn, it actually imports about 17 million tonnes of American corn annually and is expected to import even more this year, experts said.
Government officials in Mexico, such as Agriculture Minister Victor Villalobos, have hinted that imports of yellow corn for use as livestock feed won't be hampered. According to a US agriculture official familiar with recent meetings with Mexican officials, American farmers are still wary because no official document makes that claim.
Lopez Obrador resolutely stated this month that they do not accept GMO corn.
18% to 20% of Mexico's total U.S. corn imports are corn for human consumption, including white corn used in foods like tortillas. Whether such GM imports will be stopped by 2024 is still up for debate.
The import of new varieties of GM corn seeds resistant to glyphosate has been prohibited by Mexico's health regulator COFEPRIS since 2018. The US Trade Representative (USTR) should initiate a dispute settlement procedure under the USMCA trade agreement, which also includes Canada and Mexico, according to the National Corn Growers Association, which represents American farmers.
The association objects to Mexico rejecting biotech crop traits "without any scientific basis," according to Angus R. Kelly, the association's director of public policy, trade, and biotechnology.
Raul Urteaga, a former Mexican government official and founder of the consulting firm Global Agrotrade Advisors, said Washington could potentially bring a dispute under the USMCA's agriculture chapter, which calls for cooperation between members on each country's import regulation.
Under some USMCA chapters, a dispute settlement may be necessary if a nation believes that the government of one other member has eliminated or diminished a benefit that was in effect when the agreement was signed.
Both the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and the American Embassy in Mexico declined to comment. Requests for comment from the USTR and the USDA were not answered.
In the event that negotiations fail, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), which represents biotech firms such as Bayer, stated that it supported the (US) administration taking enforcement action on Mexico's treatment of agricultural biotechnology.
Federico Zerboni, president of the agriculture chamber MAIZALL in Argentina, which sent a delegation to Mexico in August, said the refusal of new GM seeds gave the impression that Mexico's regulator is in favour of a very old and unfeasible production system to feed the world.
COFEPRIS said that its choices were supported by scientific evidence and risk assessments.
In 2020, Bayer agreed to pay billions of dollars to settle legal claims brought by individuals who said its weedkiller had injured them.
A March report by the American consulting firm World Perspectives Inc found that Mexico's ban on corn imports could cost the nation US$4.4 billion over ten years, increase the cost of tortillas by 42% by the second year, and pose serious threats to food security.
The report found that over a ten-year period, the US could experience a US$16.5 billion decline in economic output. It did not distinguish between corn that was white and yellow.