Canada said Friday it will join a trade dispute panel that the United States requested over Mexico’s proposed limits on imports of genetically modified corn.
The U.S. government asked that the dispute process be formally opened on June 2, after talks with the Mexican government failed to yield results.
The panel of experts would have about half a year to study the complaint and release its findings. Trade sanctions could follow if Mexico is found to have violated the U.S.-Mexico Canada free trade agreement.
Mexico wants to ban GM corn for human consumption, and perhaps eventually ban it for animal feed as well, something that both its northern partners say would damage trade and violate USMCA requirements that any health or safety standards be based on scientific evidence.
“Canada shares the concerns of the U.S. that Mexico’s measures are not scientifically supported and have the potential to unnecessarily disrupt trade in the North American market,” Canada’s Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food said in a statement.
Mexico is the leading importer of U.S. yellow corn, most of which is genetically modified. Almost all is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens in Mexico, which doesn’t grow enough feed corn. Corn for human consumption in Mexico is almost entirely domestically-grown white corn, though corn-meal chips or other processed products could potentially contain GM corn.
Mexico argues GM corn may have health effects, even when used as fodder, but hasn’t yet presented proof.
Mexico had previously appeared eager to avoid a major showdown with the United States on the corn issue — but not eager enough to completely drop talk of any ban.
In February, Mexico’s Economy Department issued new rules that dropped the date for substituting imports of GM feed corn.
Under a previous version of the rules, some U.S. growers worried a GM feed corn ban could happen as soon as 2024 or 2025.
While the date was dropped, the language remained in the rules about eventually substituting GM corn, something that could cause prices for meat to skyrocket in Mexico, where inflation is already high.
U.S. farmers have worried about the potential loss of the single biggest export market for U.S. corn. Mexico has been importing GM feed corn from the U.S. for years, buying about $3 billion worth annually.
The new rules still say Mexican authorities will carry out “the gradual substitution” of GM feed and milled corn, but sets no date for doing so and says potential health issues will be the subject of study by Mexican experts “with health authorities from other countries.”
“Regarding the use of genetically modified corn for animal feed and industrial use, the date for prohibiting its use has been eliminated,” the Economy Department said in February. “Working groups will be set up with the domestic and international private sector to achieve an orderly transition.”
Mexico was where corn was first domesticated starting around 9,000 years ago, and in order to protect its native varieties, the country will still ban imports of GM seed corn.