MEXICO CITY, MEXICO, US — The United States on Nov. 28 threatened legal action against Mexico if it proceeded with its plan to ban imports of genetically modified corn in 2024.

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday and following the meeting issued a written statement about the potential impact the import ban would have on the US economy and the potential for legal recourse.

“The president’s phase-out decree has the potential to substantially disrupt trade, harm farmers on both sides of the border and significantly increase costs for Mexican consumers,” Vilsack said in a statement released on his Twitter account. “We must find a way forward soon, and I emphasized in no uncertain terms that – absent acceptable resolution of this issue – the US government would be forced to consider all options, including taking formal steps to enforce our legal rights under the USMCA (US-Mexico-Canada-Agreement).”

Lopez Obrador issued a presidential decree on Jan. 1, 2021, that seeks to ban genetically modified corn in 2024 and phase out the herbicide glyphosate, which is found in Roundup Ready corn. Mexico imports about 17 million tonnes of GM corn per year and the United States is its top supplier.

More than 90% of all corn planted in the United States is genetically modified.

If Mexico follows through with the import ban, the economic consequences would be devastating for US farmers and Mexican consumers, according to a recently released study by World Perspectives, Inc. The study found that the US corn industry would lose $3.56 billion in the first year following a full ban, proceeded by a $5.56 billion loss in the second year, according to the report’s estimates. Over the 10-year forecast period, the corn industry would experience a $13.61 billion economic loss.

Over that same period, the US corn wet milling industry would suffer $7.65 billion in losses and the ethanol industry would incur a loss of $521.5 million after accounting for gains from lower GM corn prices, according to the study.

“We made it abundantly clear that Mexico’s import ban would cause both massive economic losses for Mexico’s agricultural industries and citizens, as well as place an unjustified burden on US farmers,” Vilsack said in his written statement. 

Vilsack said some progress was made during the meeting, noting that Lopez Obrador “reaffirmed the importance of yellow corn imports for Mexico’s food security” and that the president “also discussed a potential process in which we can exchange information and engage in dialogue assuring the safety of biotechnology products.”

“We expect to have a proposal from the president’s team soon and we will evaluate closely,” Vilsack said.