June 29, 2023

Interpretive Summary: USTR calls for dispute settlement consultations over Mexican GMO corn restrictions

Interpretive Summary: USTR calls for dispute settlement consultations over Mexican GMO corn restrictions 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai has requested dispute settlement consultations with Mexico under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). These consultations regard certain Mexican measures concerning products of agricultural biotechnology. Previous discussions have taken place in February 2023 and in March 2023, the US held technical consultations with Mexico, but it did not resolve the issue. Mexico is one of America’s oldest trading partners. 

In late 2020, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that his country would ban the import of GMO corn for human consumption by 2024. During a November 2022 meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mexican officials proposed some changes to Obrador’s decree. The Mexican president later added he might be willing to delay the ban for a year. American officials contend Mexico is still not living up to its agreements under the terms of the USMCA.

These specific sets of consultations are a result of the measures detailed in Mexico’s February decree. The decree specifies a ban on the use of biotechnology corn in tortillas or dough, and the instruction to Mexican government agencies to gradually substitute 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. The US believes 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 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,” said Ambassador Katherine Tai. “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.”

A previous study found that the announced policy would aggravate current food insecurity by drastically raising prices for corn, basic foods, and other critical products derived from corn in the Mexican economy. The average cost of corn would increase by 19% and tortilla prices would increase by 16%. About 10% of the Mexican population lacks access to adequate food and under the policy ban, this level is expected to double or triple in the nine poorest Mexican states, mostly in the south. Additionally, price increases in corn protein, fiber, oil, and thousands of processed foods distributed by tens of thousands of Mexican food retailers would all suffer price increases.

The United States of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack published a press release, stating, “USDA supports success for all farmers, and that means embracing fair, open, science- and rules-based trade. 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. 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.”