MONTERREY, MEXICO — US Grains Council (USGC) representatives traveled to Mexico for meetings with major stakeholders in the US-Mexico corn trade market to maintain communication and relationships with the valuable customers.

The group met with staff from the US Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Monterrey to coordinate future collaboration efforts in the country. The ATO works with private industry and government officials in both the United States and Mexico to serve as a center for US export promotion and a point of contact for Mexican importers looking to purchase feed grains and other products.

“With recent political obstacles and challenges to rail transport logistics affecting grain imports to Mexico, it’s vital for the Council to work in tandem with the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service in Mexico to keep shipments moving,” said Brent Boydston, chairman of the USGC. “US producers and Mexican importers and end-users alike are looking for reassurance that trade will continue operating smoothly, and it’s the Council’s duty to facilitate that goal as much as possible.”

Mexico imported 15.3 million tonnes of corn in 2023, making it the largest importer of US corn last year. Its set to import between 14 million and 16 million tonnes of yellow corn this year, said Víctor Villalobos, Mexico’s minister of agriculture.

The United States and Mexico are in the midst of a trade dispute over the importation of genetically modified corn. Outgoing Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a decree banning the use of GM corn for dough and tortillas and to gradually substitute GM corn used for animal feed and for other forms of human consumption with non-GM corn.

Following that 2023 decree, which clarified the initial decree from 2020, the United States initiated dispute settlement proceedings under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The United States claims that the 2023 decree violates the USMCA requirement that parties use science-based principles when implementing measures because the United States claims that scientific studies have shown GM corn is safe for human consumption.

A dispute settlement consultation did not resolve the issue, so a formal dispute panel was convened. Oral arguments will be presented by each side this June. A final report is expected in November.

If the panel finds Mexico’s ban is inconsistent with the USMCA, Mexico will have 45 days to correct the issue. If it does not, the United States can suspend benefits to Mexico under the USMCA that are equivalent to the effect of Mexico’s ban on importing GM corn.

With the June 2 election of Claudia Sheinbaum as president, analysts have speculated that the dispute might come to an end. Sheinbaum will start her six-year term on Oct. 1.

Sheinbaum has said she wants to continue the USMCA agreement and that her No. 1 priority is strong relations with the United States.

Prior to her political career, Sheinbaum was a scientist, earning her master’s and doctorate degrees in energy engineering.  

Ted McKinney, chief executive officer of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), said given Sheinbaum’s science background, he’s optimistic she will overturn Obrador’s decree. She may not make any decision until the results of the dispute panel are released, he said.

While in Mexico, the USGC delegation also met with staff from a leading global food production company that offers products in 112 countries to discuss how US producers can meet the company’s demand. The agenda then shifted to Mexico City for an extended discussion with the National Chamber of Industrialized Corn (CANAMI), an important ally to the entire US agriculture industry during the ongoing process of ensuring food security and normalizing agricultural trade while complying with Mexican regulations.

The program concluded in Jalisco, the largest livestock-producing state in Mexico and headquarters of the National Association of Feed Manufacturers for Animal Consumption (ANFACA), an invaluable partner to the Council for more than 30 years. The Council’s group participated in its annual industry luncheon — where attending representatives constituted 90% of US corn exports to Mexico — to show the Council’s continuing commitment to collaboration with ANFACA and Mexican importers and producers.

“The Council’s relationship with ANFACA over the decades has been very important both for the Council’s strategy in Mexico and for raising demand for US corn to the level we see today,” said Heidi Bringenberg, USGC director in Mexico. “I sincerely look forward to continued successes with ANFACA and to building deeper relationships with other associations that will keep US agriculture as the premier option for Mexican importers.”