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Mexico seeking deal on its GMO corn ban with U.S.

By Cassandra Garrison and Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday he is seeking a deal with Washington after the United States threatened legal action over Mexico's plan to ban genetically modified corn in 2024.

After meeting with Mexican officials on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Mexico's decree could violate the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade pact.

Lopez Obrador looked to assuage those concerns during a regular news conference on Tuesday, saying the ban was focused on genetically modified (GMO) yellow corn for human consumption.

"Our position is not closed off," he said.

Mexico is one of the biggest buyers of U.S. corn with American farmers sending about 17 million tonnes of corn to Mexico annually.

U.S. farmers have been particularly concerned about the threat of a ban on GMO yellow corn for animal feed.

But Lopez Obrador indicated GMO corn for animal feed would continue to be allowed after the decree comes into force, although it remained unclear exactly how that will work or for how long that exception might last.

"We offered to extend the term to two years, in the case of yellow corn used for (livestock feed)," Lopez Obrador said without expanding on when that extension would start and end.

Neither did Lopez Obrador specify whether Mexico still planned to reduce overall yellow corn imports by about half in 2024, which a top Mexican official told Reuters last month.

Mexico's GMO corn ban has been plagued by confusion over how it will be implemented.

Supporters of the ban argue genetically modified corn could contaminate Mexico's native varieties.

Mexico's Agriculture Ministry declined to comment. A spokesperson for the president did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States has called for clarity and warned of severe economic fallout from a ban.

"Since biotech corn accounts for 90 percent of American-grown corn, blocking any imports using this safe and environmentally friendly technology would not only be a major blow to the Mexican people and the economy, but it would be hard on American farmers and rural communities," said Jon Doggett, chief executive of the National Corn Growers Association, representing U.S. farmers.

Lopez Obrador added he wanted health authorities in both countries to assess the impact of GMO corn on human health.

Mexico and its northern neighbors are already in dispute resolution talks over Lopez Obrador's energy policies, which the United States argues violate the trade pact.

Raul Urteaga, a former Mexican official and founder of consulting group Global Agrotrade Advisors, said the meeting with U.S. officials on Monday suggested a trade dispute with Washington over corn might be imminent.

"Why risk another potential trade dispute that looks like Mexico is going to lose?" Urteaga said.

(Reporting by Dave Graham, Raul Cortes, Kylie Madry and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Mark Potter)

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