Vilsack: 'No reason to compromise' with Mexico on GMO corn ban

USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed farmers at American Farm Bureau’s Annual Convention in Puerto Rico. He told the crowd USDA has identified 21 “potentially viable projects” that could expand independent, U.S.-based fertilizer production capacity before the 2023-24 crop year. None are based in Illinois. He also unveiled a new COVID-19 pandemic assistance revenue program for farmers who experienced a 15%-plus loss in gross revenue in 2020 compared to 2018-19. A formal proposal with eligibility requirements will be released in “very near future.” (AFBF photo)

A compromise between the Biden administration and the Mexican government is not the solution to the country’s proposed ban on imports of genetically modified corn from the United States, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“There’s no reason to compromise,” Vilsack told reporters after speaking during American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2023 Annual Convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Responding to a question on whether the U.S. was developing a counter-offer to Mexico’s newest pitch to narrow a 2024 ban on GMO corn imports, Vilsack reiterated: “It’s not about compromising.”

He said he understands and appreciate’s Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “concern about the heritage and culture of white corn in Mexico” and the use of glyphosate, but that an import restriction has “got to be science-based; it’s got to be rules-based.”

Vilsack’s comments come after a Nov. 28 meeting in Mexico City, where Obrador told Vilsack he’d consider delaying the ban on U.S.-grown feed corn while more studies were conducted, but that he’d be less flexible on imports of white corn, which is used in products like tortillas.

Mexico primarily imports feed corn from the U.S., which also provides white corn for food processors.

Vilsack said after the November meeting he communicated the U.S. would consider filing a dispute under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

And in December, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos, Economy Secretary H.E. María Luisa Albores González and other officials came to Washington to propose a new framework to Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai.

According to a joint statement released after the meeting, “there was a candid conversation” between the officials “about our deep concerns” with the ban, Vilsack and Tai said, adding “there is a joint recognition that time is of the essence and we must determine a path forward soon.”

Vilsack said the U.S. committed to sending a response to Mexico’s proposed amendments to the ban by Jan. 15.

Vilsack said he also explained to Obrador how he’s “not going to be able to find enough non-GMO corn to feed the livestock that he has in Mexico today.”

“And as I pointed out to him in our meeting, you’re faced with a circumstance where you’re going to have a smaller livestock operation, you’re going to have shorter supplies and higher prices for your consumers,” Vilsack added.

Vilsack further explained that for consumers to have affordable access to a product, “you have to have a trading system that has less friction, not more friction.

“And if every country decided to sort of earmark certain things that were important to them, you would create barriers.”

But regarding white corn and Mexican tortilla makers and consumers accepting its GMO status, Vilsack said Mexican officials should let the free market decide.

“And I’m reasonably certain that the (Mexican) market down there is going to want white corn produced by Mexican producers,” he said. “That’s non-GMO for their tortillas and that’s what the market is saying. And so the market will respond to that.”

As for how American officials will continue responding to the ban, Vilsack said the “message is pretty simple, which is we believe in a science-based system.”

“We understand and appreciate some of the challenges that the Mexican president has outlined and concerns he has, but at the end of the day, the agreement we reached with Mexico and Canada is in support of a science- based system and we’re going to continue to convey that.”