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Mexico's GMO Corn Threat Dominates Senate Agriculture Trade Hearing

Although those on the Senate Agriculture Committee hailed the 14% surge in agricultural exports in 2022, when the value reached an all-time high of $196 billion, a half-dozen senators pressed USDA Undersecretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor on Mexico's plan to block the import of genetically modified corn.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked why the Biden administration has not called for a USMCA dispute panel on the issue. "I’m concerned that this decree is not being met with the urgency it deserves," he said during a hearing Feb. 1.

Taylor replied, "I do think we are engaging with urgency on this issue. We certainly appreciate the potential impact the decree could have on corn farmers in the U.S."

She said that the U.S. is emphasizing to Mexico that making sanitary and phytosanitary regulations based on science is a fundamental principle "and not something we can walk away from or negotiate away from."

She told Grassley that they haven't gone the dispute route because "we’re still productively engaging with Mexico" and think it could be possible to reach a resolution through dialogue.

Several Republicans complained about the lack of a tariff-liberalizing trade agenda. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said he thinks the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework was a missed opportunity, since there was no tariff liberalization plank.

He said the administration has not requested that Congress deliberate a trade promotion authority bill and is not negotiating a traditional free trade agreement. "You guys need to step up your game here, and I hope you will," he said.

Taylor defended the IPEF agriculture approach, which is aimed at lowering sanitary and phytosanitary barriers. She said that in the past, when tariffs have been lowered, but SPS has not changed, it has not resulted in the market access agriculture interests had hoped for.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., told the witnesses that she's been thankful for the efforts of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in trying to limit the trade fallout from avian flu outbreaks.

But she complained that although China agreed to import chicken from states that had outbreaks once there had been no more cases for 90 days, and a cleaning protocol was complete, that hasn't turned out to be true.

"Since last August, China has failed to honor the 2020 agreement," she said.

Taylor replied that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is tackling that issue as part of its effort to see that China meets its phase one commitments.

She added that although China is a very important export market, its officials "are also very challenging."