EXCLUSIVE-U.S. demands Mexico explain science behind GMO corn ban

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The new U.S. agriculture trade chief on Thursday told Reuters that he has given Mexico until Feb. 14 to respond to a U.S. request to explain the science behind Mexico’s planned bans on genetically modified corn and glyphosate herbicide.

Doug McKalip, the U.S. Trade Representative’s new chief agricultural trade negotiator, said in an interview that Mexico’s response will help the trade agency decide next steps in its quest to resolve a long running dispute over Mexico’s biotechnology agricultural policies.

This could include escalating the dispute settlement process under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade, he added. The dispute threatens to disrupt billions of dollars worth of corn trade between the United States and Mexico.

The U.S. request came in a previously unreported letter sent by USTR on Jan. 30 to Mexico’s economy ministry seeking scientific evidence behind the bans and risk assessments backing the decisions, which are required under the trade agreement launched in 2020.

Mexico “rejected 14 separate agricultural product traits that were submitted to them and they did not provide any justification,” McKalip told Reuters. “We want to make sure that they do the science, show their work, and make decisions based upon risk assessments.”

The U.S. request comes just days after McKalip and other USTR officials met with Mexican officials and voiced concerns over their biotechnology approach, warning that they may take formal steps to reinforce trade rights under USMCA.

The letter marks a step in this direction, and further steps include seeking formal consultations over the dispute or asking for a dispute settlement panel to determine whether Mexico’s policies violate the trade deal.

“We are very much laser-focused on this. This is a high priority for this administration,” McKalip said. (Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Diane Craft)