Exclusive-Mexico says it won’t modify decree on GM corn ahead of USMCA panel

By Adriana Barrera

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico won’t make any further changes to a decree on genetically modified (GM) corn ahead of a dispute settlement panel requested by the United States through the USMCA trade pact, Mexican economy minister, Raquel Buenrostro, told Reuters on Monday.

Buenrostro’s comments come after the United States last week escalated its objections to the restrictions imposed by Mexico on imports of GM corn and requested a dispute settlement panel under the North American trade pact, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Mexico in mid-February modified an end-2020 ban on GM corn, issuing a decree to allow its use in animal feed and the making of consumer products like cosmetics, textiles and paper.

The new decree maintained a ban on GM corn for human consumption, specifically in the use of making flour for tortillas, which are a staple of the Mexican diet.

“It’s already written … it’s already in the decree,” Buenrostro said, referring to allowing GM corn in animal feed, a key concern for U.S. and Mexican industrialists.

“That is why care was taken to give the definition of corn for human food,” she said.

Tortillas in Mexico are made with non-transgenic white corn, in which it is self-sufficient, but the country imports corn worth around $5 billion annually from the United States, most of it yellow GM grain for livestock feed.

The USMCA panel was announced after the failure of formal consultations to resolve deep differences between the two trading partners over GM corn.

Washington says Mexico’s decree banning imports of GM corn used for tortillas is not based on science and violates its commitments under the USMCA, which has been in place since 2020.

Mexico’s policy, however, is based on science and what the U.S. says has “no foundation,” Buenrostro said.

Mexico has invited its trading partner to work together on scientific research on the health impact of GM corn, but the U.S. has refused, according to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and other Mexican officials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved GM corn, and Washington doesn’t see any need for more extensive research that might take years, Buenrostro said.

“(That) makes no sense because if a government cares about people’s health, then they would have no problem doing further research on the health implications,” she said.

Another sticking point between Mexico and the U.S. and Canada is over energy policy. The United States and Canada demanded in July last year dispute settlement talks, saying Mexican energy policies were discriminatory and “undermined” international companies.

Buenrostro said the countries are now working on the wording of an agreement over the energy dispute to settle their differences without resorting to a settlement panel.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Anthony Esposito, Sarah Morland and Tom Hogue)