US ramps up trade enforcement, while industry looks for new trade deals 

Sara Wyant

United States trade officials are busy around the globe making sure that trade deals are fully enforced and trade barriers are coming down. But some farm groups want to see more in terms of new trade agreements.  

The one thing they can all agree on is that there are plenty of things to do on the trade front, starting with one of our biggest customers: Mexico.  

The U.S. just notched up its enforcement efforts against Mexico over the country’s ban on genetically modified white corn and its intent to eventually bar all biotech corn from food and animal feed by calling for a dispute panel under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.   

“The United States has used the tools provided by the USMCA in attempting to resolve concerns with Mexico’s biotechnology measures,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement Aug. 24. “Today, the United States is taking the next step in enforcing Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA.”  

Chief U.S. Agricultural Agriculture Trade Negotiator Doug McKalip, speaking in an interview for Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, said he expects a decision from the dispute panel by no later than mid-2024. 

The U.S. and Mexico began “dispute consultations” earlier this year over Mexico’s GM corn ban contained in a presidential decree that the country published on Feb. 13, but those talks failed to produce an agreement. 

“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,”Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said recently. “By requesting the establishment of a dispute settlement panel with Mexico, the United States is continuing to exercise its rights under the USMCA to ensure that U.S. producers and exporters have full and fair access to the Mexican market.” 

National Corn Growers Association President Tom Haag says he’s anxious for the dispute panel to begin deliberations and optimistic about the result. NCGA, a spokesman said, has been sounding the alarm over Mexico’s anti-biotech stance since last fall and “calling on the Biden administration to initiate a dispute settlement under USMCA.” 

“Mexico’s decree, which runs counter to scientific findings and is in direct violation of USMCA, is negatively impacting American corn growers,” said Haag. “U.S. officials have exhausted every avenue trying to resolve this conflict and are left with no other choice but to turn to a third-party panel in hopes of quickly rectifying this issue. We are deeply appreciative of USTR for standing up for America’s corn growers.” 

Rep. Jason Smith, R-MO, told Agri-Pulse he’s been pushing the USTR to demand a dispute panel. 

Smith, after a recent meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said he knew that Obrador “wasn’t going to budge and that he was going to stand in the way of U.S. corn farmers and not abide by what was agreed to in USMCA.” 

The Missouri Congressman, who now chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, also lamented what he sees as a lack of activity on the trade front with other trading partners.  

Some farm groups are now turning to the large field of candidates hoping to be the next president to make the case for new trade deals. 

“It has been over a decade since the U.S. entered into a new comprehensive free trade agreement,” some of the largest U.S. farm groups said in an open letter to presidential candidates. “The U.S. needs to again take the lead in negotiating new FTAs with other countries and work to strengthen and reform the rules-based multilateral trading system.” 

Groups signing the letter include the American Soybean Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, International Fresh Produce Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sorghum Producers, North American Meat Institute, North American Renderers Association, U.S. Apple Association, U.S. Dairy Export Council, USA Rice Federation, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Almond Alliance, American Feed Industry Association, Animal Health Institute, Farmers for Free Trade and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. 

The Biden administration is currently negotiating the 14-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and although the government has stressed that it will expand trade opportunities by cutting non-tariff trade barriers, many farm groups are seeking more. 

The farm groups, writing in the letter, stressed that “our friends and adversaries alike have been busy entering into FTAs, including the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and to bilateral deals like the ones created just this year between Australia and the UK and between China and Ecuador.” 

So, as candidates scour the country in an effort they hope eventually leads to the White House, farm groups are hoping they will endorse the push for new FTAs. 

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“As we move toward the 2024 presidential election, stakeholders in the food and agriculture sector are here to serve as a resource,” the groups said in the letter. “We ask you to commit to fighting for free and fair trade on behalf of America’s farmers and ranchers, and we stand ready to answer any questions or provide additional information that may be needed by your campaign.” 

Editor’s note: Sara Wyant is publisher of Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc., www.Agri-Pulse.