Mar 16, 2022Congress members urge USDA to press Mexico on potato deal
A 34-member, bipartisan group of Congresspeople is calling on the USDA to press Mexico to honor its trade deal with the U.S. and allow fresh potato access to all of the country.
The March 15 letter was signed by 34 U.S. Senators and Representatives from potato-producing states, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. The group was led by Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) and Representatives Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon).
Mexican officials recently said they want to expect U.S. potatoes during the growing season before allowing them to be imported throughout their country. The U.S. National Potato Council (NPC) and its trade consultants say this stipulation was not part of the original work plan and is causing unnecessary delays.
In April 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled unanimously to overturn a lower court’s decision to restrict U.S. fresh potato sales to within 26 kilometers of the border. In December, Mexican inspection officials visited Colorado to examine U.S. potatoes in storage, at which time they expressed satisfaction and the desire to proceed, said Matt Lantz of Bryant Christie, who has been close to the ongoing U.S.-Mexico trade situation for two decades.
Despite a Mexican Supreme Court ruling made in favor of U.S. potato producers and the completion of successful site visits made by Mexican authorities to U.S. potato plants in Colorado, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) acquiesced to new demands by the Mexican government that will significantly delay and limit U.S. potato exports to Mexico in 2022.
“Given that Mexico appears to be continuing to avoid its responsibilities to restore this access, we request that APHIS explain its decision-making process to agree to these unscientific and inconsistent demands,” the letter from Congress stated.
“We respectfully request that USDA reconsider the statements announced at the end of February, as they are not stipulated in the work plan,” the letter continued. “The U.S. continues to honor our side of this trade deal, and it is imperative USDA ensure that Mexico do the same.”
Below is the full letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We write today out of deep concern for the ongoing dispute regarding U.S. fresh potato access to Mexico. It appears that Mexico is continuing to delay restoring this access that was blocked due to legal proceedings initiated by the Mexican potato industry over seven years ago. The cost of this inaction is estimated to be $150 million to U.S. growers on an annual basis. We request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continue to work with their counterparts in Mexico to ensure that the trade deal is honored by expeditiously reinstating access for U.S. fresh potatoes and to express that any Mexican request for enhanced agricultural access to the U.S. should not be granted until this access is restored.
In December of 2021, Mexican officials toured U.S. potato operations in Colorado as the final step in restoring this access. That site visit came after the Mexican Supreme Court unanimously ruled in April 2021 against the Mexican potato industry’s legal claims. At the conclusion of the visit, Mexico indicated their satisfaction to USDA and further stated that market access should be complete by early February 2022.
However, on Wednesday, February 16th, 2022, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) jointly announced with their Mexican counterparts, SENASICA, that fresh table stock potato access would be substantially delayed well into 2022. That statement was made due to Mexico’s later demands for additional site visits in 2022 as a prerequisite to opening the market. Additionally, it was announced that processing potato access to Mexico would be arbitrarily limited to only two companies for 2022.
Neither of these requirements exist within the U.S.-Mexico work plan that was concluded at the end of last year. As you will recall, the process that the U.S. is supposed to be pursuing is one to restore, not establish, access for these potatoes. The U.S. had previously negotiated market access and was shipping potatoes to Mexico in 2014 until the Mexican industry filed suit in an effort to avoid competition with U.S. growers.
Given that Mexico appears to be continuing to avoid its responsibilities to restore this access, we request that APHIS explain its decision-making process to agree to these unscientific and inconsistent demands. Additionally, we are extremely concerned that APHIS came to this agreement with SENASICA without consulting the domestic industry and that this may be indicative of the process that USDA is undertaking to restore fresh access.
We respectfully request that USDA reconsider the statements announced at the end of February, as they are not stipulated in the work plan. The U.S. continues to honor our side of this trade deal, and it is imperative USDA ensure that Mexico do the same.