MEXICO CITY, Aug 3 (Reuters) – The United States has denied a request by Mexico to jointly conduct scientific research on the health impact of genetically-modified corn, a Mexican government official said, a sign the two sides could be inching closer to a formal trade dispute.
Mexico has repeatedly called on the U.S. to work together on scientific studies amid a conflict over the Latin American country’s plans to limit the use of GM corn. Mexico buys about $5 billion worth of corn from its trade partner annually, most of which is GM yellow corn used for livestock feed. The U.S., however, denied this request and made it clear it will not participate in new scientific studies with Mexico, Mexican Deputy Agriculture Minister Victor Suarez said in an interview with Reuters.
The two countries discussed Mexico’s request, including during a visit by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, but the U.S. will not oblige, Suarez said. “They did not want to establish a period in which the two parties agree to carry out impact studies on animal health and human health,” Suarez said at his office on Wednesday.
“Their science is the Word of God. That is not science, that is ideology,” he added. When asked to comment on what Suarez said, the U.S. Department of Agriculture referred Reuters to previous remarks by Vilsack stating that the U.S. “fundamentally disagrees” with Mexico’s position on biotechnology. Mexico wants to ban GM corn for human consumption in the food staple tortilla, which is mostly made of white corn, and eventually replace GM yellow corn used for livestock feed, arguing that biotech corn harms native varieties and may have adverse health effects.
The U.S. has argued that Mexico’s plan is not based on science and will hurt U.S. farmers. In June, Washington requested a new round of trade dispute settlement consultations with Mexico under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which are underway. If the two sides cannot resolve the conflict within 75 days, which falls on Aug. 16, the U.S. can request a dispute settlement panel to decide the case. Canada also joined the consultations.
Suarez said the U.S. does not have the evidence to support its argument in a panel, but that Mexico would be ready.”If they establish the panel, we will defend ourselves. And if we defend ourselves, we think we are going to win,” Suarez said, adding that Mexico’s policy has no commercial impact on the United States.
Suarez estimated that between 10% and 15% of foreign corn purchases could be substituted by domestic production by the end of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s mandate in 2024.
The government is buying 1.5 million metric tons of white corn from producers in Sinaloa state at 6,965 pesos per ton ($409) after the country saw major unrest in the sector prompted by a drop in international grains prices. The state government will also buy half a million metric tons at that price.
Suarez said the price is based on a calculation of production costs and seeks to revalue the Mexican white grain and separate it from the “commodity” price of yellow corn on the Chicago grains exchange. “This breaks the price link with Chicago,” Suarez said, adding that the program would soon expand to other states.