A row between the US and Mexico over a plan by the latter to ban imports of genetically modified corn by 2024 deepened on Monday.
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned Mexico’s president that the US would be forced to take legal action if no “acceptable resolution” was found.
Mexico argues that genetically modified seeds are a threat to its own ancient native corn varieties.
But on Tuesday, Mexico’s president said he would seek a deal with the US.
A ban would have “significant impact” on US-Mexico trade, Mr Vilsack had earlier warned.
Mexico is the second-largest importer of corn in the world after China, and much of the corn it buys comes from the United States.
But this ban could result in Mexico halving its US imports of yellow corn, a Mexican minister told news agency Reuters last month.
Decree with consequences
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a presidential decree on 31 December 2020 calling for genetically modified (GM) corn for human consumption to be phased out by the end of January 2024.
The decree caused huge concern among US corn exporters and with the deadline approaching, efforts by the US to sway President López Obrador to drop or soften the planned ban have increased.
On Monday, Mr Vilsack met President López Obrador in Mexico and told him of the “deep concerns” US farmers had.
“We must find a way forward soon,” Mr Vilsack said, warning that the US “would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights under the USMCA”, referring to free trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada.
Banning GM corn was one of the Mexican president’s campaign promises. Earlier this month, he insisted Mexico was a “sovereign free country” and that “we do not want GM”.
Mr López Obrador argues there has been a lack of scientific investigation into the effects of genetically modified corn on Mexico’s native varieties of corn.
Mexico prides itself on being the place where thousands of years ago humans began to domesticate corn for the first time and the country boasts dozens of heirloom varieties.
But it relies heavily on US imports of yellow corn to feed its livestock and to produce sauces.
On Tuesday, President López Obrador stressed that GMO corn for animal feed would still be allowed as the ban only applied to corn destined for human consumption.