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U.S. trade negotiators continue to wrestle with Mexico over GMO corn

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A new tariff on GMO white corn is concerning for American farmers.

The government of Mexico announced a 50% tariff on imported white corn that is grown from genetically modified, or GMO, seed. The Office of the United States Trade Representative made it clear that the new Mexican tariff will not apply to this year’s U.S. crop but it is still a concern for Illinois farmers.

“We have [the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement], so free trade should be flowing between the U.S. and Mexico,” Matt Rush, president of Illinois Corn Growers Association, told The Center Square.

Many Illinois corn growers like Rush have genetically modified white corn plants in the ground now for the fall crop that is destined for Mexico.

“When Mexico first announced this in the middle of February, the local cash price dropped 60 cents a bushel overnight,” Rush said. “It’s rebounded a little bit. The basis is up 20 cents from where it was in February.”

Mexico and China are consistently in the top three markets for Illinois grown corn. Farmers are a little confused by the Mexican tariff announcement, Rush said. They want a resolution before they purchase seed this fall for their 2024 crop.

“Mexico is a huge importer of our corn, and we want to keep that relationship open,” Rush said. “But we have all agreed, the U.S. and Canada and Mexico, to the USMCA, and we just need to hold them accountable for that.”

Illinois corn farmers will pivot to purchase and grow non-GMO seed for export if that is what Mexico wants, Rush said.

“We can grow that, but it is just going to take us some pre-planning and a timeline that just doesn’t get sprung on us,” he said.

Farmers typically buy their seed in the fall, five or six months before they plant in the spring. Seed companies start growing the seed two years before that, Rush said.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrado said he expects the regulation on GMO white corn to be in place by the end of the year.

Most of the white corn that Mexico buys from Illinois is for food products, like masa and tortillas. Yellow corn is for animal feed. Mexico imports both white and yellow corn from the United States.

On a call last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that he is continuing to follow the trade dispute settlement process that was begun earlier this year when the regulation on biotech corn was announced.

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