US challenges Mexico’s plan to phase out imports of corn from GMO seeds

The two parties now must hold technical consultations within 30 days, under trade pact known as USMCA

The U.S. said it is seeking formal consultations with Mexico over its agricultural biotechnology policies—a request officials said is aimed at Mexico’s import ban on genetically modified American corn and other crops. 

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said the request was filed under the U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trilateral trade pact known as the USMCA that took effect in 2020. 

The step comes after the U.S.’s yearlong effort to persuade the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to abandon its plans to ban imports of genetically modified corn by 2024. 

Truck gathers corn crop yield

A harvester combine tractor, left, cuts through rows of corn before it is loaded onto a truck for silage September 29, 2022 in Charlotte, Vermont. The silage, which is a fermented fodder made from green foliage crops, will be stored in large concrete (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The import ban will have a significant impact on U.S. farmers. During 2022, Mexico purchased nearly $5 billion worth of corn from the U.S., making it the second largest importer after China, according to the Agriculture Department. More than 90% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, according to the National Corn Growers Association. 


 "Mexico’s policies threaten to disrupt billions of dollars in agricultural trade and they will stifle the innovation that is necessary to tackle the climate crisis and food security challenges if left unaddressed," said Katherine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative.  

The Mexican Economy Ministry said it would show that there has been no commercial impact from the decree, and will seek to resolve its differences with the U.S.

Mexican officials have said their aim has been to protect Mexico’s native corn varieties, and that its policies are in keeping with terms of the USMCA.

Corn being unloaded at processing plant

A worker unloads corn at a processing facility in Misantla, Veracruz state, Mexico, on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Mexico has banned genetically modified corn and will phase out imports over the next three years as part of the governments efforts to ach (Quintanar/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"If the U.S. wanted to take this to a panel under the USMCA, it would have to show quantitatively, that is, in numbers, that the corn decree is having an effect on imports, which hasn’t happened," the ministry said last week.


Mexican Economy Minister Raquel Buenrostro, who spoke on Feb. 24 with Ms. Tai, has said Mexico already produces more of the white corn used for tortillas than it consumes, while corn imported from the U.S. is for livestock feed and industrial uses. 

U.S. officials have criticized Mexico’s policy as not being grounded in science, as GMO products have long been consumed safely in the U.S., Mexico and elsewhere. While the U.S.’s announcement didn’t mention specific biotechnology products, a senior U.S. official said corn is a product covered by the consultations. 

Under USMCA rules, the two parties now must hold technical consultations within 30 days. If they fail to find a resolution through the process, the fight could shift to formal dispute settlement consultations. 

Corn on a husk

Corn grows in Leland, Mississippi, US, on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (Rory Doyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The Biden administration has been under pressure to take decisive actions from lawmakers from agricultural states.  

 "While this is welcome news, it should have happened sooner," said Rep. Adrian Smith (R., Neb.), the new chairman of the Trade Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. "I hope this is an inflection point for the administration and marks a movement toward a more aggressive and proactive trade agenda across the board." 


The fight over GMO corn is part of increasingly thorny trade relations between the neighbors. In July, Ms. Tai requested dispute-settlement consultations with Mexico under the USMCA trade agreement, saying Mexico was favoring its state-owned utility and oil company at the expense of American businesses.

Mexico is among the U.S.’s top trading partners. In 2022, the U.S.’s exports to Mexico totaled $324 billion, while imports totaled $454 billion, according to Commerce Department data. 

 Anthony Harrup contributed to this article.