Mexico City — US senators have requested to open consultations with the Mexican government regarding the ban imposed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on genetically-modified (GM) corn imports, which, the US senators say, contravenes the Mexico-US-Canada free trade agreement (USMCA).
Senators Joni K. Ernst and Charles E. Grassley, both of the Republican Party, sent a letter to US Trade Representative Katherine Tai to express their concern over President López Obrador’s promise to ban GM corn imports by 2024.
According to the Iowa state senators, that promise directly contravenes Mexico’s commitment in the USMCA.
The ban on GM corn imports is part of the actions taken by López Obrador’s government to achieve what it calls food sovereignty with environmentally sustainable agro-technologies and without agro-toxins.
AMLO, as the president is known, published a decree on December 31, 2020 in which the ministries of environment and natural resources, health, and agriculture and rural development, as well as the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), will promote applicable reforms to avoid the use of glyphosate as an active substance in agrochemicals and genetically modified corn in Mexico.
The decree states that the biosafety authorities will revoke and refrain from granting authorizations for the use of genetically modified corn grain in Mexicans’ diet, until it is totally substituted on a date that may not be later than January 31, 2024.
The decree does not make any reference to the USMCA.
AMLO said in his routine morning press conference on October 24 that Mexico is self-sufficient in white corn, but not in yellow corn, and it is therefore necessary to produce both varieties, taking care that it is not transgenic in order to protect native corn varieties.
“We do not want transgenic corn,” AMLO said at the time.
A new US-Mexico trade dispute?
The senators said that AMLO’s policy is not only substantively ill-advised, but contravenes a number of commitments set out in the USMCA, including the chapters on sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
Those commitments include ensuring that such measures are based on relevant scientific principles and a documented risk assessment that takes into account relevant scientific evidence, they added.
“The time has come for the Office of the US Trade Representative to intervene in this matter. We respectfully request that she [Katherine Tai] formally request consultations on dispute settlement under Article 31.4 of the USMCA,” the senators said.
If at the end of the consultation period Mexico has not confirmed that it will reverse its ban, the trade office should proceed and request the establishment of a dispute settlement panel, they argued.
Mexico is currently in a trade dispute with the US and Canada under the USMCA regarding its energy policy, as the two northern neighbor nations filed a complaint against differential treatment of energy companies from those countries.
The senators noted in the missive that lowa is the leading corn-producing state in the US, with a crop of 2.5 billion bushels a year. Iowa corn producers export 16 million tons or 630 million bushels of corn to Mexico each year.
“Any disruption of these shipments will severely impact our farmers and the state’s economy, and will have serious economic consequences for the entire corn belt,” the US lawmakers said.
They added that President López Obrador’s decree “is not only a failure” for US farmers, but also “impossible” to implement, since 92% of the corn grown in the US is transgenic.
Economic losses for the US from GM corn
The senators said farmers in lowa and across the US are already ordering the seeds for spring planting in 2023 and that once purchased this fall they will remain in grain distribution channels until 2025. Most of that corn is, and will continue to be, biotech corn.
The lawmakers cited a study by World Perspectives Inc., which found that over a 10-year forecast period, the Mexican ban on GM corn would cause the US economy losses of $73.89 billion in economic output, and would cause GDP to contract by $30.55 billion.
In the first year of the Mexican ban, US corn producers and industry partners would suffer losses of $3.56 billion, followed by a loss of $5.56 billion in the second year.
This “economic crisis” would result in the loss of 32,000 US jobs, the senators argue.
“Given the impact that the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to have on the global grain supply, it is critical to remove arbitrary barriers to seed technology that support resilience throughout the agricultural value chain,” they added.