CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jun 06 (IPS) – The US government on June 2 escalated its conflict with Mexico over the country’s restrictions on genetically modified corn, initiating a formal dispute resolution process under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
It’s just the latest in a decades-long U.S. assault on Mexico’s food sovereignty, using the crude tool of a trade deal that has flooded Mexico with cheap corn, wheat and other staples, undermining Mexico’s ability to produce its own food. With Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government showing no signs of backing down, the conflict could test how well the major exporter can use the trade agreement to force the sovereign state to abandon measures needed to protect public health and the environment. .
The Science of Prevention
It refers to a Mexican presidential decree announced in late 2020 and updated in February 2023 to ban the cultivation of genetically modified corn, the use of the herbicide glyphosate by 2024, and to ban the use of genetically modified. corn in tortillas and corn flour. The stated goals were to protect public health and the environment, particularly the rich biodiversity of native corn that could be threatened by uncontrolled pollination from GM corn plants.
While the original decree vowed to phase out the use of GM corn, the updated order lifted restrictions on GM corn in animal feed and industrial products, pending further scientific study of the effects on human health and the environment. 96% of US corn exports to Mexico, almost all GM corn, fall into that category. It is unclear if the rest of the exports, mostly white corn, are destined for Mexico’s tortilla/cornmeal industry.
These were significant concessions. After all, there is no commercial restriction on GM corn. Mexico doesn’t even restrict the import of GM white corn, only using it in tortillas.
It does not matter. In the US government’s official notice that it will begin consultations to bring the dispute to the USMCA’s arbitration panel, it cites the lack of scientific justification for the measures, the denial of certain permits for new GM products, and Mexico’s intention to phase out GM. maize for all uses with non-GM varieties.
As Mexico’s Ministry of Economy noted in its brief response, Mexico will demonstrate that its current measures have little impact on US exporters because Mexico is self-sufficient in white and domestic corn. Any future replacement of non-GM corn would not involve trade restrictions, but would come from Mexican investment, reducing import dependence by promoting increased domestic production of corn and other staples. The statement also noted that the environment section of the USMCA obligates countries to protect biodiversity, and for Mexico, where maize was first domesticated and the diet and culture so defined, maize biodiversity is a priority.
As for the claim that Mexico’s concerns about GM corn and glyphosate are not based on science, USTR’s action follows an unprecedented five weeks of public forums convened by Mexico’s national science agencies to assess the risks and hazards. More than fifty Mexican and international experts presented evidence that justified the precautionary measures taken by the government. (I summarized some of the evidence in an earlier article.)
Three Decades of US Agricultural Dumping
The measures stem from deep concern about the deterioration of Mexican diets and public health as the country gradually adopted what some have called a “neoliberal diet.” Mexico has replaced the United States as the global leader in childhood obesity as diets rich in native corn and other traditional foods have been replaced by highly processed foods and beverages high in sugar, salt and fat. Researchers have found that since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994, the United States has been “exporting obesity.”
López Obrador’s government recently challenged the powerful food and beverage industry to impose strict warning labels on foods high in these unhealthy ingredients. Its restrictions on GM corn and glyphosate stem from the same public health obligations.
So is the government’s campaign to reduce import dependence on staple food crops: maize, wheat, rice, beans and dairy products. But as I document in a new IATP policy report, “Swimming Against the Tide,” cheap U.S. exports continue to undermine such efforts.
We documented that in 17 of the 28 years since NAFTA went into effect, the United States has exported corn, wheat, rice and other staple crops at prices below their cost of production. It is an unfair trade practice known as agricultural dumping, and it stems from the chronic overproduction of such products in that country’s highly industrialized agriculture.
Just as NAFTA eliminated many of the policy measures that Mexico could have used to limit such imports, U.S. overproduction went into recession, the result of its own deregulation of agricultural markets. Corn exports to Mexico increased by more than 400% in 2006, with the price of those exports being 19% below their cost of production. Again, between 2014 and 2020, corn prices were 10% below production costs, just as Mexico began to look to boost domestic production.
We estimated that Mexican corn farmers lost $3.8 billion in those seven years from falling prices for their crop. Wheat farmers lost $2.1 billion in US exports, 27% below production costs.
So far, the Mexican government has had little success in boosting domestic production of its priority foods, although higher international prices in 2021 and 2022 have provided a much-needed boost to farmers.
So are the government’s creative initiatives, including an innovative public procurement scheme, just as the bumper crop of white corn is arriving in northern Mexico. Maize and wheat prices have fallen by about 20% in recent weeks, with the government buying about 40% of the crop from small and medium-sized farmers at higher prices, with the aim of giving larger producers the bargaining power to then demand higher prices. major grain buyers that dominate the tortilla industry.
Swimming against the neoliberal tide
With its commitment to public health, the environment, and increased domestic production of basic household goods, the Mexican government is indeed fighting strong neoliberal currents. Notably, it does so while maintaining its trade agreement with the United States and Canada.
Before US trade officials escalate the dispute over GM corn, they should look in the mirror and ask themselves whether three decades of agricultural dumping meets the rules of fair international trade. And why does Mexico have absolutely no right to ensure that its tortillas are not contaminated with GM corn and glyphosate?
For more information on the GM corn controversy, see the IATP resource page, Food Sovereignty, Trade, and Mexico’s GMO Corn Policy.
IPS UN Bureau
Follow IPS News UN Bureau on Instagram
© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service