Mar 7, 2021More delay in the US-Mexico fresh potato case, frustration grows
On March 3, the Mexican Supreme Court once again declined to vote on a draft ruling that would overturn a ban on the importation of U.S. fresh potatoes throughout Mexico. This is the second week in a row the court has postponed a vote on the ruling.
“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 Kam Quarles, CEO, National Potato Council (NPC), 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.”
“As of (March 5), we are at 1,180 days since the Supreme Court process first began,” said Jared Balcom, the NPC’s VP of Trade Affairs. “Every day the ruling is delayed means another day Mexico is out of compliance with USMCA and its fair-trade obligations.”
At issue is a draft ruling written by one of the Supreme Court justices that, if supported by a majority of the five-person court, would overturn a 2017 lower court decision preventing the Mexican federal government from implementing regulations to allow for the importation of fresh U.S. potatoes throughout the country. If this draft ruling is not approved, it calls into question Mexico’s authority to allow any agricultural imports.
On March 4, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held separate calls with Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s food and ag minister, and Victor Villalobos, Mexico’s secretary of ag and rural development. In his conversation with Villalobos, Secretary Vilsack reportedly brought up the draft ruling pending before the Mexican Supreme Court that would open the country to U.S. fresh potato imports.
According to media reports, Vilsack shared “his hope that bilateral technical engagements could resume to finalize import requirements and fully open Mexico’s market to U.S. fresh potatoes.”
“We appreciate Secretary Vilsack raising this issue in his first call with his Mexican counterpart,” Quarles said. “Clearly, it is a high priority as potatoes were the only individual commodity cited in the USDA read-out of the conversation.”
Tai questioned about situation
Katherine Tai, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, was reported favorably out of the Senate Finance Committee on March 5. Tai is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate in the coming weeks.
As reported in last week’s Eye on D.C., during her confirmation hearing, Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) called on Tai to help to “tear down trade barriers and confront abusive trade practices,” including the ongoing restrictions placed on U.S. fresh potato imports by Mexico.
On that topic, Senator Crapo and other members of the committee submitted written questions for the record, to which Tai responded recently. The NPC expressed thanks to its supporters in Congress for continuing to highlight this long-standing and significant issue for our industry.
Ranking Member Crapo: USMCA includes a number of groundbreaking commitments for a U.S. trade agreement. Unfortunately, it appears Mexico is taking a number of steps in the wrong direction. In agriculture, Mexico is maintaining or enacting new restrictions on U.S. agriculture that lack any scientific justification, including on potatoes, biotech crops, and glyphosate. In the energy industry, Mexico seems to be discriminating against U.S. businesses to favor state-owned PEMEX. If confirmed, would you use all the tools available under USMCA, including dispute settlement, if we do not see progress on these issues in the next few months?
Tai’s reply: If confirmed, I will review the reports of discriminatory action against U.S. agriculture and in Mexico’s energy sector that you have highlighted, and I will consult with stakeholders and Congress on these issues. I commit to quickly engage the Mexican government if it violates the agreement and to use all dispute settlement tools to fully enforce USMCA whenever necessary.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington): Mexico has again delayed granting full access for U.S. fresh potatoes. It has refused to provide market access despite more than 20 years of U.S. advocacy and its obligations under the WTO, NAFTA, and the USMCA. As a result, Mexico continues to significantly damage the Washington state potato industry and the jobs it supports. What specific steps will you take to finally gain durable market access for U.S. fresh potatoes to Mexico?
Tai’s reply: I understand the historical issues concerning full access to the Mexican market for U.S. fresh potatoes. If confirmed, I will work to address unfair trade practices that hurt our producers.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado): Since 1996, Mexico has limited U.S. fresh potato imports to 26 kilometers from the U.S.-Mexico border. (Recently) the Mexican Supreme Court was supposed to release a final ruling on the trade restriction, but that decision was delayed. Will you work with me to ensure Colorado potato growers have fair access to the entire Mexico market?
Tai’s reply: I appreciate the long-standing difficulties that U.S. fresh potato growers in Colorado have faced in gaining full access to the Mexican market. If confirmed, I look forward to working to solve unfair trade practices that harm our producers.
— National Potato Council