Canadian canola sector paying close attention to U.S. challenge of Mexico’s biotech restrictions

Update, June 9: The Canadian government has decided to sign on as a third party in the United States’ request for dispute settlement consultations regarding Mexico’s restrictions on biotechnology in agriculture.

The U.S. government’s challenge of Mexico’s ban of genetically-modified (GM) corn for common food uses is being closely monitored in Canada, specifically in the Canadian canola sector.

Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai formally requested dispute settlement consultations with Mexico over a decree issued in February that bans the use of GM corn in dough and tortillas, with plans to phase out the use of biotech corn in all products for human consumption and animal feed. The decree also updated an earlier commitment to ban the use of glyphosate in the country.

Unlike the U.S., Canada doesn’t export much corn to Mexico, but canola — most of which is also genetically-modified — and products made from canola are Canada’s largest agri-food export to Mexico, valued at around $1.6 billion in 2022.

“Mexico is very important for Canadian canola. And so that’s definitely the point of entry for us into this discussion,” explains Chris Davison, vice president of stakeholder and industry relations with the Canola Council of Canada, in the interview below.

While the Mexican government has not mentioned canola specifically in its decrees targeting biotech corn and glyphosate, there are concerns a key export market for canola is moving away from clear, predictable science and risk-based regulations. “That’s really where the interest in this file comes from for Canada,” notes Davison.

Davison says there have been some positive signals from Mexico’s government following the technical consultations that Canada and the U.S. both requested in March.

“But we believe there’s a need for some more formal and substantive assurance that’s required to provide clarity and certainty about the regulatory approach moving forward,” he says, when asked whether Canada should join the U.S. in challenging Mexico’s biotech policies. “There’s a concern out there that similar issues could arise in the future, where you have this sort of precedent established for approaches that are not based on science.”

Under the rules of the North American trade agreement, Canada has seven days — until Friday, June 9 — to join the dispute settlement consultations as a third party. As of Tuesday, the trade minister’s office said the Canadian government was still considering whether it would join.

Listen to the full conversation with Chris Davison of the Canola Council of Canada, discussing Mexico’s biotech policy and why it could potentially matter for Canada’s agriculture sector:

Related: Canada considering whether to join U.S. in trade dispute over Mexico’s agricultural biotech policies

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