MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico and the United States appear to be headed for another commercial dispute Tuesday, this time over a Mexican ban on imports of genetically modified yellow corn.
In a strongly worded message, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote that "time is running short" to resolve the issue.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Tuesday that Mexico won't back down on a ban on imports of GM corn for human consumption.
But López Obrador said Mexico would study whether to eventually ban it for animal feed, as well.
"What is being proposed is that we also set a date for studying the contents of yellow corn to see whether it is damaging to human health, even if it is used for animal feed," López Obrador said. "Because that takes time, we are offering a space of two years (for imports) in the case of yellow feed corn."
The Mexican leader cited the need to protect human health and native strains of corn from genetic contamination. Mexico is where corn was first domesticated, and is consider the plant's center of origin.
Vilsack met on Monday with López Obrador and said he had expressed "deep concerns" over the issue to the U.S.
"The president's phase-out decree has the potential to significantly disrupt trade, harm famers on both sides of the border and significantly increase costs for Mexican consumers," Vilsack wrote. "This is a critically important issue for U.S. farmers who are rightfully and deeply concerned about the decree."
"I emphasized in no uncertain terms that — absent acceptable resolution of the issue — the U.S. government would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights" under the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement.
Mexico is the single biggest export market for U.S. corn, and buys about $3 billion annually.
Mexico doesn't produce enough feed corn to supply domestic livestock, pork and poultry producers, and it relies on the United States for about 40% of its animal feed.
Mexico relies mainly on domestically produced white corn for human consumption, but yellow corn — some of it GM — is sometimes used in flours or prepared snacks like chips.
Under a decree published in late 2021, the ban on GM corn imports for human consumption would take effect in January 2024.
Mexico already has another trade and investment dispute going with the United States.
In July, the United States asked for dispute resolution talks with Mexico over energy policies that Washington says unfairly favor Mexico's state-owned electricity and oil companies over American competitors and clean-energy suppliers.
The talks have so far not led to any solution; the United States could press the complaint, and it could end in trade sanctions against Mexico.