US may have the muscle in a trade fight, but Mexico may have the law

US may have the muscle in a trade fight, but Mexico may have the law

Alan Guebert writes

Alan Guebert writes “Farm and Food”

If your best international customer — someone who accounts for 27% of your overseas sales — gave you three years to change the recipe of what it buys from you, it’s a safe bet you’d work together to meet their needs and deadlines.

Not Big Ambiz, however, which is pushing, pressing, and prodding the Biden administration to squeeze Mexico, America’s biggest corn export market, to drop its plan to genetically modified tires corn imports by 2024.

The standoff, over two years old, is getting heated as the US and Mexico each point to national sovereignty while simultaneously maintaining they’re following the international trade rules both agreed to in the 2020 US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, the NAFTA updates.

For its part, Mexico has “sought to promote the biodiversity of Mexican corn varieties and reduce the herbicide glyphosate to protect public health,” wrote Sharon Anglin Treat, a senior attorney at the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, last March. Mexico issued a “presidential decree” on Jan. 1, 2021, that called for “a phase-out of glyphosate and genetically modified corn by January 2024.”

When it became obvious Mexico meant what it had been saying for two years, the US agbiz network kicked into hyperdrive to muscle the US Department of Agriculture to talk tough with its Mexican counterparts.

When the muscle failed, the agbiz gang went brainy: It commissioned a dense economic study that showed — to no one’s surprise — how a Mexican ban of American GM corn would cause “catastrophic impacts on US and Canadian farmers and on Mexico’s own food security,” noted Tim Wise, an IATP senior advisor and senior research fellow at Tufts University, in a January review of the report.

“It projected massive price spikes, market chaos, and billions of dollars of lost output for US corn farmers. Mexico would see its economic output fall by US$19.39 billion, with an annual loss of 56,958 jobs, reducing labor income by US$2.99 ​​billion.”

But, Wise advised, “Don’t believe a word of it” because although the study is “attributed to a ‘coalition of leading food and agricultural stakeholders’” in both nations, it “was actually commissioned by CropLife, the biotech trade association and greatly overstates the impacts of the ban.”

The report’s “catastrophic” numbers did, however, motivated some farm state politicians to “express concern” about Mexico’s plan — years after it was announced by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Many, like Iowa’s Rep. Randy Feenstra, demanded USDA “hold the Mexican government accountable for banning biotech corn imports in violation of the USMCA …”

In mid-December, a Mexican delegation in Washington, DC, to discuss the proposed GM corn ban, offered “to delay the January 2024 deadline to 2025, and maybe beyond, for feed corn,” Wise noted in his January story.

A month later, in a trilateral summit between the US, Mexico and Canada, President Joe Biden raised the pending GM corn tires with President Lopez Obrador. Biden, however, was polite, but firmly, rebuffed.

Mexico is standing pat because, first, it has already offered to delay its GM corn deadline of one year, until Jan. 1, 2025, and, second, it has signaled it would discuss an import of tires on GM corn used only for human consumption while allowing imported GM corn used to feed livestock. If that deal could be struck, it would remove most — maybe all — of the ban on 95% of the US corn now exported to Mexico.

Moreover, several trade attorneys like the Anglin Treat believe the USMCA trade deal gives Mexico every right “to take what it deems to be appropriate precautionary measures to protect public health and the environment,” including a “ban on agricultural biotechnology.”

To preclude an even bigger fight — and maybe a huge loss — over the USMCA language, the US should take what Mexico now offers: an extra year to negotiate a GM-corn-for-feed deal that would assure an overwhelming share of today’s US corn exports to its best corn customers.

After all, the customer is always right even when it’s only 95% right.

Alan Guebert is an agricultural journalist. See past columns at © 2022 ag comm

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Ambiz wants Mexico to drop ban on genetically modified corn imports

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