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Biden urged to hold Mexico accountable on biotech policy

House members seek harmonization on biotech approvals as Mexico hasn’t approved a biotech product since 2018.

Jacqui Fatka

December 3, 2021

4 Min Read
MEXICO FALLS SHORT ON USMCA: Mexico's move away from agricultural biotechnology does not meet standards set in USMCA trade agreement.wildpixel/iStock/GettyImagesPlus

A group of 70 legislators led by Representatives Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and Jim Costa, D-Calif. called on the Biden administration to seek assurance from the Mexican government that the country will abide by the biotech provisions committed to under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Since 2018, biotech application approvals by Mexico have come to a standstill, impacting corn, apples, canola, cotton, soybeans and potatoes. President López Obrador also announced the intent to phase out certain agricultural technologies, including biotech corn for human consumption, by 2024. 

The USMCA explicitly contains obligations to encourage the efficient processing of biotechnology approvals and requires the U.S., Mexico and Canada to maintain transparent regulatory systems to prevent disruptions to trade in agricultural biotechnology products.

The letter details that with over 90% of corn, soybean and cotton acres produced with biotechnology seeds, the U.S. is the world’s largest producers of biotechnology crops, many of which are grown for export. This includes export to Mexico, the U.S. third-largest agricultural trading partner, which imported $18.3 billion in U.S. agricultural and related products in 2020.

“As a result, Mexican agricultural biotechnology measures have a significant impact on our agricultural sector,” the letter explains.

American Soybean Association President Kevin Scott applauded the efforts and stressed the importance of the Mexican market for soybeans. "Mexico is the No. 2 export market for U.S. soybeans, and the lack of regulatory approvals for new agricultural biotechnology traits is extremely concerning. The longer this issue lingers in Mexico, the greater the odds of a trickle-down effect on the availability of new biotechnology products for U.S. soybean growers—and trade disruption."

Compounding the uncertainty is Mexican President’s Obrador’s decrease intent on biotech corn by 2024. “This decree, which is not based on science, is particularly concerning because it signals the potential rejection of currently pending permit approvals and opens the door to revocation of existing biotech authorizations,” the letter says. “Additionally, there is the very real possibility this decrease would impact corn intended for animal feed, even if it is not directly banned.”

“America’s corn farmers are appreciative of Congressional leaders weighing in on this important issue and raising their concerns that Mexico is backsliding on its USMCA commitments,” says Chris Edgington, National Corn Growers Association president. “If Mexico’s actions go unchecked U.S. corn farmers run the risk of having to choose between losing what is typically our largest and most reliable export market or losing access to important production tools and innovation that are critical for deploying sustainable production practices.” 

Smith notes, “Our farmers rely on biotech traits to increase yields, improve soil health, and improve input efficiency. We must reaffirm Mexico’s commitment to the biotech provisions in the USMCA and ensure President López Obrador’s policies to ban certain biotechnology does not come to fruition. The Biden Administration cannot allow for such requirements to be ignored by such an important trading partner. Nebraska corn and soybean farmers depend on it.”

“Biotechnology has a significant role in food security,” says Costa. “Changing climate conditions, the economic impacts of the pandemic and growing populations are straining our food system. Integrating new technologies into agriculture is one way that we can prepare for change. We must do all we can to remove trade barriers and advocate for innovation toward more sustainable agriculture."

Michelle McMurry-Heath, Biotechnology Industry Organization’s president and CEO expressed when testifying on Capitol Hill this past summer that Mexico’s unscientific approach to products of agricultural biotechnology is only going to set us further back in tackling the climate crisis—and will only hurt every day Mexicans struggling to put food on the table.

“Because Mexico is such an important trading partner, their rejection hampers our innovators ability to develop new, greener technologies like drought tolerant crops and plants that can capture and sequester carbon from the atmosphere,” McMurry-Heath. “The administration needs to urge Mexico to return to a science-based review process for imports of agricultural biotechnology so we can encourage sustainable agriculture and slow the impacts of climate change.”

The letter thanked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s for pressing Mexico on the issue. If President Obrador and the government do not abide by the biotechnology provisions laid out in USMCA, the House members requested that the president “use the enforcement tools made available to you under the USMCA to hold Mexico accountable.”

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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