Following months of negotiations, US officials announced that they will trigger a resolution mechanism under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), in a bid to resolve the impasse.
According to a report by Al Jazeera, for Mexico the issue was rooted in ensuring the affordability and availability of a crucial crop, while for the US it was just about business.
Maize was the largest grain crop produced in the US, with by far the bulk of it being genetically engineered.
Industry analysts warned that the dispute could have a serious fallout for importing and exporting countries, and “unnecessarily disrupt trade in the North American market”.
Canada had reportedly added its voice to that of the US declaring that Mexico’s position on biotechnology was “not scientifically supported”.
Mexico would also gradually be phasing out the use of GM maize in livestock feed, as well as industrial usage.
Al Jazeera reported that Mexico expanded its ban on GM maize in 2020, when a decree was passed to prohibit all GM maize, including imports, as of 31 January 2024.
The reasons given for the ban were the protection of that country’s food security, “its rural communities, its food heritage and the health of its people”.
In addition, Mexican authorities announced that strict limits would be imposed on the importation, distribution and use of the herbicide, glyphosate, which was widely used in GMO farming, and it would ultimately be completely banned by that date.
However, in February this year, Mexico issued another decree to somewhat soften its stance on the use of GM maize as animal feed.
The bulk of Mexico’s maize imports from the US was used for this purpose, and the new decree omitted the date on which yellow GM maize used for animal feed would be barred from entering the country.
The latest decree still reiterated Mexico’s intention of “gradually substituting” the use of GM maize in animal feed, however, but indicated no set date.
“Mexico is the centre of origin of more than 55 strains of maize. The food security policy of the Government of Mexico consists of preserving this biocultural heritage,” a statement issued by the government said.
The government’s intention to preserve the sustainable farming practices of peasant communities was also stressed in the statement.
“This has to do with consolidating sovereignty and food security in a central part of Mexican culture.”
Mexico’s stance was not well received by the US, which said it was “an affront to the free trade rules of the region,” according to Al Jazeera.
“Mexico’s approach to biotechnology is not based on science and runs counter to decades’ worth of evidence demonstrating its safety and the rigorous, science-based regulatory review system that ensures it poses no harm to human health and the environment,” US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.
“Innovations in agricultural biotechnology play a key role in advancing solutions to our shared global challenges, including food and nutrition insecurity, the climate crisis and the lingering effects of food price inflation,” he added.
The value of the maize Mexico imported from the US amounted to almost US$5 billion (about R95 billion) in 2022, of which the vast majority was yellow GM maize used as animal feed.
According to Al Jazeera, this made Mexico the second-largest destination for the US crop, or about 17 million tons of yellow maize in 2022.