Early US Fumbles in Tortilla War With Mexico Over GMO Corn

An international battle over tortillas is taking place this week. For an ingredient in tacos, the United States gins up a trade dispute with Mexico. Last year, in a Decree Mexico outlawed genetically modified (GMO) corn for human consumption. The U.S.argues that this violates trade obligations. Worried about its GMO corn exports, it formed a trade panel under the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). Hearings started Wednesday.

The controversy is overstuffed and a sloppy mess. So far, American and Mexican legal filings contain 586 pages, 758 exhibits, and nearly 2,000 footnotes. Arguments span over 20 separate USMCA provisions and multiple annexes. Extra submissions come from Canada and non-governmental organizations. It’s hard to follow, whether you’re a trade expert, scientist, or just care about food safety.

The U.S. position has two weaknesses: economic errors and misrepresentations about the Decree. These are basic mistakes, from a Trade 101 class, regarding injuries and policy. The fumbles stand out from the legalese and scientific jargon in the filings. And let’s be clear: he U.S. should drop the case.

A good place to start making sense of the fight is the actual Decree. Article 6 outlaws GMO corn for human consumption, precisely defined as corn for tortillas or masa (dough). It stops approvals for GMO corn for these two items. That is it. The Decree is explicit in not touching GMOs in animal feed or industrial use—the kind U.S. corn farmers mostly export.