A ban on genetically modified (GM) corn in Mexico is set to proceed with the country on track to halve its US imports of yellow corn, the country’s deputy agriculture minister was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.

Victor Suarez said yellow corn was used primarily for livestock feed and Mexico would halve its US imports by increasing domestic production when the ban came into effect in 2024.

To make up the shortfall, the country would be looking at making deals with farmers in other countries to grow non-GM corn and sell it to Mexico, Suarez said.

“There are many alternatives to importing non-GM yellow corn from the USA,” Suarez said in an interview on 26 October.

The comments by Suarez were the strongest indication to date from Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry that the ban would hit yellow corn destined for livestock feed, Reuters wrote. It also appeared to reverse assurances made last year by agriculture minister Victor Villalobos to his US counterpart that Mexico would not limit imports of GM corn from the USA.

One of the world’s largest buyers of corn, Mexico currently imports around 17M tonnes/year of US grain, according to the report.

The 2020 decree by Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador aimed to phase out GM corn and the herbicide glyphosate by 2024. Supporters of the move have claimed that GM seeds could contaminate Mexico’s age-old native varieties and pointed to research showing adverse effects of glyphosate.

However, US farm lobbies have claimed that the ban would cause billions of dollars of economic damage to both countries and have urged Washington to dispute it under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade pact.

MAIZALL, an international chamber representing growers in Argentina, Brazil and the USA - which is responsible for more than 80% of global corn exports - has said it would not change its corn production methods to non-GM to accommodate Mexico. The chamber said that it remained unconvinced that Mexico could find enough non-GM corn to meet its needs.

Although Mexico respected the trade pact, Suarez said he did not believe the decree presented any violation of the USMCA, saying the country was “under no obligation to buy and grow GM corn”.

When asked if Mexico would clarify the future of US imports, Suarez said announcements were possible in the second half of next year although there would be no modifications to the decree.

As part of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador's campaign to make Mexico self-sufficient in everything from energy to food, local corn production had slightly increased between 1%-2%/year due to free fertilisers, irrigation expansions and other incentives, mainly for small and medium-sized farmers, the report said.

With yellow corn imports becoming more expensive than domestic production, this was another incentive for farmers to make the switch, Suarez added.

Suarez said he was confident that Mexico would make up about 8M tonnes of corn it would no longer import from US farmers after 2024. The government was working to make agreements with local corn growers to specifically increase yellow corn production to 6M tonnes, he added.