The United States said Friday it had requested dispute settlement consultations with Mexico, the next formal step in a row over the latter's plans to phase out genetically engineered agricultural products.
The consultations, under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), come after Mexico announced plans to phase out the use of genetically engineered corn in animal feed and products for human consumption, among other measures, drawing ire from Washington.
"The United States has repeatedly conveyed its concerns that Mexico's biotechnology policies are not based on science and threaten to disrupt US exports to Mexico to the detriment of agricultural producers," said US Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a statement.
"We will continue to work with the Mexican government through these consultations to resolve our concerns," she added.
Mexico is the world's second-largest buyer of yellow corn and imports a significant amount from the United States, where most corn is genetically modified.
In February, the Mexican government softened its stance on the issue, saying exceptions could be granted for corn for animal feed and industrial food production while suitable substitutes are found, but held steady on banning GMO corn for human consumption.
"We fundamentally disagree with the position Mexico has taken on the issue of biotechnology, which has been proven to be safe for decades," said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In a statement late Friday, Mexico's economy ministry said it had received the US request, and that it and other agencies would "demonstrate with hard data and evidence" that its policy does not have a material impact on US interests.
It said Mexico produces twice as much white corn as it uses for the production of tortillas, a staple food, so the "exclusive use of native corn for dough and tortillas is of no commercial concern or interest to the United States."
The United States exported $28 billion in agricultural goods to Mexico in 2022, while Mexico exported $43 billion of such goods to the United States.
The US move on Friday follows an earlier request for technical consultations in March.
That process took place but failed to resolve the matter, a senior US official told reporters.
Looking ahead, the USMCA provides that a consulting party may ask for a dispute settlement panel to be set up if parties fail to resolve the matter within 75 days of the consultation request, officials added.
"In the consultations that are about to begin, Mexico reaffirms its commitment to promote a constructive dialogue to clarify US concerns and reach a mutually satisfactory agreement," the Mexican statement said.
"The strong commercial ties between the two countries require us to act responsibly and with an open mind," it concluded.