April 2021
Column: US-Mexico potatoes drama giving ‘Days of Our Lives’ a run for its money

“Days of Our Lives” is one of the longest running soap operas of all time. The U.S. potato industry’s quest to get its fresh potatoes throughout the country of Mexico could give it a run for its money, however.

Spudman Managing Editor Zeke Jennings

Just when we thought we were about to reach the conclusion, the story took another turn.

The Mexican Supreme Court was due to rule Feb. 24 on the cases that could overturn a lower court’s 2014 decision to limit the area fresh U.S. potatoes could be distributed to just 26 kilometers (16.1 miles) of the border. 

One of the court judges issued a draft ruling prior to that date that would have been in the U.S. potato industry’s favor. That same judge, however, then requested a delay in ruling, which meant the case would not be ruled on prior to March 3. On that day, it was delayed again.

UPDATE: Mexican potato growers ask President Obrador’s administration to withdraw court appellate cases that would allow for U.S. fresh access

Leaders of the National Potato Council (NPC), which have been providing updates of the fresh potatoes-to-Mexico saga on a regular basis since I’ve been with Spudman, publicly expressed frustration with the situation.

“Should these delays persist, it will become obvious that political interests within Mexico are encouraging the court to drag its feet on ruling in order to continue to avoid competition with U.S. fresh potato growers,” said NPC CEO Kam Quarles, in a statement. “We have seen this pattern of political interference before, and it is the reason this dispute has dragged on for two decades.”

Those “political interests” apparently lie with the National Confederation of Potato Producers of Mexico (CONPAPA), which the NPC referred to as a “potato cartel.” Full fresh potato access to Mexico is part of a 2003 trade agreement, but also reinforced in the USMCA trade agreement that was finalized last year.

“Every day the ruling is delayed means another day Mexico is out of compliance with USMCA and its fair-trade obligations,” said Jared Balcom, the NPC’s VP of Trade Affairs.

NPC PODCAST: Political inference in Mexico and other topics

The situation has received attention from multiple U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture, including Tom Vilsack, who reportedly addressed it with Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture Victor Villalobos of late. Vilsack said recently that using the USMCA, which could lead to tariffs, is a real possibility.  

What is next in this improbable and never-ending drama? I guess you’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out.

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