Written by: Guest | December 2, 2021
By: Matt O’Mara, vice president of international, BIO
The Government of Mexico’s failure to honor to its commitments under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding agricultural biotechnology will hamper investment and market access for future innovations that are key to agricultural productivity and global efforts to address climate change.
But will this treatment of agricultural biotechnology also impact the proportionately larger use of corn in animal feed?
As negotiators closed on the USMCA and the agreement entered into force, the agricultural industry hailed it as successfully modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The USMCA included new provisions around modern biotechnology, intending to foster cooperation, communication and facilitate trade. These new biotechnology provisions and the USMCA Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement do not require a country to approve biotechnology products, but they require countries to maintain a regulatory process and make science-based decisions.
But despite industry’s praise of the agreement, trouble for biotechnology was already brewing.
Beginning in 2018, Mexico stopped issuing approvals for new biotechnology products. And since, Mexico has failed to maintain a science-based approval process by arbitrarily delaying the scientific risk assessment for as many as 25 biotech products across a wide range of commodities, including apples, canola, corn, cotton and soy.
In 2020, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged to prohibit imports of biotech corn by 2024, while also refraining from issuing and revoking existing approval of biotechnology products. President López Obrador and the Mexican government have underscored this threat in a series of actions in recent months.
In September 2021, the Mexican government issued an unprecedented rejection of a GMO corn permit from Bayer Crop Sciences. "We are disappointed with the unscientific reasons that Cofepris used to deny the authorization," the company said in a statement.
Then in October 2021, Mexico’s Minister of Agriculture Víctor Manuel Villalobos Arámbula told U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the country would still allow GM corn imports.
However, despite this verbal commitment, Mexico has not made any progress in rescinding the decree or resuming the scientific risk assessment process. Instead, the president of Mexico sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Oct. 26, communicating his intention to prohibit imports of GM corn, as part of Mexico’s commitments to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions.
This disregard for biotechnology without question undermines the spirit and letter of USMCA. Despite the updates to USMCA, the future of U.S.-Mexico trade is uncertain.
Mexico is experiencing a cultural movement; President Obrador’s populist platform is what helped get him elected. Banning American genetically modified foods could be an easy win.
However, this vision does not match reality. Mexico is heavily reliant on American corn and cannot become self-sufficient in producing corn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service estimates Mexican corn farmers produce “3.6 metric tons per hectare compared with 10.9 in the United States.” The NAFTA and now the USMCA has enabled a truly integrated North American market. Reversing this will be catastrophic for both countries.
With the increasing threats of climate change, such as more pests and unpredictable weather patterns, Mexico’s domestic corn production is unlikely to be able to keep pace, particularly without the benefit of modern agricultural innovations.
Rather than fighting a prolonged battle over proven technology, it is time to build on the benefits of the robust U.S.-Mexico trade relationship and implement USMCA in a way that helps both countries build greener, more resilient agricultural sectors.