At the request of the United States and Canadian governments, a trade dispute panel has rescinded an invitation to Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to submit official comments in the dispute under the Canada-US-Mexico Trade Agreement (CUSMA) over Mexico’s phase-out of genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) corn.
“We’re extremely concerned that the U.S. government requested we be blocked from commenting but even more concerned that the Canadian government wrote to support this silencing,” said Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, one of the two organizations in Canada that were granted leave to submit written comments. “We’re disappointed that we’re no longer permitted to provide our research and arguments directly to the dispute panel.”
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) and the Council of Canadians were each granted standing to file a written submission in this CUSMA dispute launched by the Government of the United States of America over the Government of Mexico’s decree of February 13, 2023 that bans the use of genetically engineered maize (corn). Canada is a third party to this trade dispute.
“Canada and the US are trying to force Mexico to continue using genetically modified corn, but Mexico is a sovereign nation with the right to determine the future of its food supply,” said Sharratt.
Mexico already bans the cultivation of GM corn but the new decree would impact GM corn imports from the US. Canada does not export any corn to Mexico. The Mexican decree immediately bans the use of GM corn for human consumption (white corn intended for use in dough and tortillas) and orders a phase-out of GM corn for animal feed and processed food ingredients. The decree also orders a phase-out of the use of the herbicide glyphosate but this aspect of the measures is not being challenged.
“This silencing of Canadian civil society is outrageous and excludes organizations who have much to add in this trade dispute”, said Rick Arnold, of the Trade Justice Group of the Northumberland Chapter of the Council of Canadians.
On December 15, 2023, the Canadian groups were notified of the dispute panel’s decision that they could provide written submissions, with a deadline of January 12, 2024. However, on January 5, they received notice that this decision had been overturned at the request of the US and Canadian governments. Both the US and Canada argued that the CUSMA rules should exclude Canadian NGOs because Canada is a third party rather than a disputing party (the disputing parties are Mexico and the US). The Mexican government has agreed to this new interpretation of the rules. There are now eight civil society groups, from the US and Mexico, with leave to comment.
“How is it possible that at the last moment the trade panel can withdraw their earlier invitation for Canadian NGOs to prepare written submissions? Muzzling these Canadian voices demonstrates once again that the United States, in league with the Canadian government, doesn’t want to allow points of views at odds with their brash promotion of genetically modified corn, despite the multiple possible consequences for Mexicans, their health, native corn biodiversity, historical cultural norms and food sovereignty,” said Alejandro Villamar Calderon of the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC).
CBAN and the Council of Canadians were preparing their arguments in support of Mexico’s right to ban GM corn, highlighting the ongoing contamination risk from GM corn grain imports and scientific findings that indicate potential health risks from eating GM corn.