OMAHA (DTN) -- Members of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday pressed USDA's new undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs about Mexico's push to ban biotech corn and why the Biden administration has not moved to a dispute resolution panel under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted early in a hearing on trade and horticulture that more than 90% of corn planted in the U.S. is a biotech variety. He then pointed to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's decree to ban biotech corn, at least for human consumption, starting next year.
"I am concerned this decree is not being met with the urgency it deserves," Grassley said. He added, "Why has the Biden administration not established a dispute settlement process on the USMCA panel with Mexico on GMOs?"
Alexis Taylor, the USDA undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, pointed out she and Doug McKalip, chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, visited Mexico last week to discuss that specific issue.
"I do think we are engaging with urgency on this issue," Taylor said.
Taylor pointed out the issue with Mexico transcends biotech corn, which Mexico seeks to ban not based on science, but cultural issues raised by Obrador.
"Much broader, fundamentally, our trading system globally and in the USMCA is based on science-based policies," Taylor said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also said last month there is no room for the U.S. to compromise on the issue because the USMCA supports trade based on science standards.
Taylor didn't address why the U.S. has not moved toward a dispute-resolutions panel with Mexico. A spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) emailed DTN pointing to statements Taylor and McKalip made last week.
"It makes clear that, while we want to work with Mexico to reach a solution, if the issue is not resolved, the United States reserves the right to take formal steps to enforce our rights under the USMCA," the USTR spokesperson stated.
HOLD MEXICO ACCOUNTABLE
Other senators from the Corn Belt repeatedly made comments to Taylor about holding Mexico accountable under the trade agreement. Obrador had originally last year pushed for an all-out ban on biotech corn, but then dialed back his demand to white corn consumed for food. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., pointed out Nebraska farmers grow about half of the country's food-grade white corn with Mexico being the top export market.
"I understand Mexico has claimed that there are cultural reasons for wanting to ban imports of white corn," Fischer said. "So can you assure us that when you say there is no compromise with Mexico and their attempts to ban biotech corn, that it also includes our food-grade white corn?"
Taylor said her conversation with Mexican officials has been about both yellow and white corn.
"There are concerns on both, and the science is fundamentally the same as it is for many other genetically engineered production that have been studied for decades," Taylor said.
Fischer noted as well that trade agreements don't work if countries do not accept products that are proven to be safe. "That's a message we need to get out not just in our international trade, but in this country," Fischer said.
TOP EXPORT MARKET
Mexico, in the current marketing year, remains the top export market for U.S. corn with more than 5 million metric tons (mmt) shipped and outstanding sales for another 6.6 mmt. Mexico purchased 16.4 mmt for the market year that ended Sept. 1.
Agricultural trade overall hit new heights in the past year. USDA reported a record $196.4 billion in agricultural exports in fiscal year 2022. For FY 2023, USDA is currently forecasting a slight decline in U.S. agricultural exports to $190 billion, while agricultural imports will continue to rise to $199 billion.
MAP AND FMD
The state of the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program at USDA also came up frequently with senators Wednesday.
MAP funding has remained flat at $200 million through multiple farm bills despite a push by various commodity organizations to increase funding. FMD is funded at $34.5 million. MAP provides funding in FY 2023 to 73 different groups to promote U.S. agricultural products.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pointed to Taylor's testimony, noting that the European Union export program for wine is greater than the entire budget of all USDA market development programs.
"I think that should concern our colleagues when we look at a balance as much as we enjoy pairing up with the EU and drinking their wine," Klobuchar said.
Taylor pointed out in a recent request for MAP proposals, USDA received $300 million in proposed projects.
MAP SUCCESS STORIES
In her testimony, Taylor also pointed to a few success stories with MAP, including promotional efforts with the U.S. Grains Council that boosted ethanol sales to South Korea from 47.3 million gallons in 2016 to 137.4 million gallons in 2020-21, valued at $520 million.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers of Congress has introduced the Expanding Agricultural Exports Act, which would double MAP funding to $400 million and FMD funding to $69 million.
Also see "US Ag Trade Officials Reject Mexican Proposals for Biotech Corn" here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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