In a significant development within the Canada-US-Mexico Trade Agreement (CUSMA) dispute over Mexico’s decision to phase out genetically modified (GM) corn, Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been prohibited from submitting official comments. This action comes after requests from the United States and Canadian governments to rescind an earlier invitation extended to these NGOs.
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), expressed deep concern over this exclusion, particularly the supportive stance of the Canadian government in silencing their input. CBAN, along with the Council of Canadians, had been authorized to submit written comments in the dispute initiated by the US over Mexico’s decree banning the use of genetically engineered maize.
The dispute centers around Mexico’s decree dated February 13, 2023, which not only prohibits the cultivation of GM corn but also phases out its import for human consumption and animal feed. The decree includes a ban on the herbicide glyphosate, although this aspect is not challenged in the dispute.
This decision to silence Canadian civil society has sparked outrage, as it excludes organizations with significant contributions to the trade dispute. The Canadian groups were initially informed in December 2023 about their permission to provide written submissions by January 12, 2024. However, this was abruptly overturned on January 5, following the intervention of the US and Canadian governments. Both governments argued that Canadian NGOs should be excluded because Canada is a third party in the dispute between Mexico and the US.
Alejandro Villamar Calderon of the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade criticized the last-minute withdrawal of the invitation to Canadian NGOs, viewing it as an attempt to muzzle voices opposing the promotion of genetically modified corn. The concerns raised include potential health risks, threats to native corn biodiversity, and impacts on cultural norms and food sovereignty in Mexico.
CBAN and the Council of Canadians were preparing arguments in support of Mexico’s right to ban GM corn, emphasizing risks of GM corn grain imports and potential health hazards.
This development highlights the complex dynamics of international trade agreements and the influence of governmental decisions on the participation of civil society organizations. The exclusion of Canadian NGOs from the dispute panel reflects broader concerns about transparency and inclusivity in trade-related discussions, especially those with significant environmental and health implications.