Jul 2, 2020
Fresh-potatoes-to-Mexico push has been a long one for US potato industry

The U.S. potato industry’s quest to get more access for fresh potatoes into Mexico remains ongoing. Actually, more like stalled in the Mexican Supreme Court.

Currently, fresh potatoes from the U.S. can only be sold in Mexico within 26 kilometers of the U.S. border.

US Mexico flagsDuring the National Potato Council’s virtual summer meeting last week, the subject of the legal battle was addressed during the Trade Affairs Committee. NPC CEO Kam Quarles reported that the issue remains before the Mexican Supreme Court, which it’s been since last year, and reminded committee members that, “Mexico’s potato industry has sued their own government to block U.S. access to their market.”

Committee members inquired about the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — which went into effect July 1 — and specifically about the new dispute resolution mechanism within it. One participant asked if that agreement could be used to punish Mexico for its failure to act in this case and suggested a large tariff on Mexican avocados as compensation.

Quarles responded that the U.S. industry is considering all potential remedies for this situation. “Clearly it is not acceptable for Mexico to use the excuse of a never-ending series of legal battles that block our rightful access to that market. USMCA was designed to prevent such protectionism and this case is a clear violation of its rules.”

Over a decade ago, an agreement was struck between the U.S. and Mexican governments that provided American potato exports in return for Mexican avocados. The U.S. honored the agreement and since that time the Mexican avocado industry has built a $2 billion annual export market here.  However, the Mexican government has not provided similar reciprocity and U.S. fresh potatoes are prevented from full access to that market. A series of legal cases over the past four years have continued to delay progress. The Mexican Supreme Court was due to hear arguments on the cases last November, but procedural delays continue to push back that timeline.

In August 2019, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was supportive of more U.S. fresh potato access to Mexico during a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, when the subject of additional access for Mexico-produced avocados to the U.S. was being discussed.

“I know this (additional avocado access) is important to Mexico. We would also like to resolve the potato issue,” Perdue told Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

The Mexican Supreme Court has been on hiatus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, although recently began reviewing its backlog of cases. Quarles said it’s possible a ruling on the potatoes case could come yet this summer, but added that an accurate timeline is nearly impossible to predict due to uncertainties from the ongoing pandemic situation.

— Zeke Jennings, managing editor

RELATED: Colorado Rep. Tipton pushes for more U.S. potatoes to Mexico

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