Jun 28, 2021
US potato industry urges Vilsack, Tai to take ‘trust but verify’ approach with Mexico

With Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai scheduled to meet with Mexican Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos Arámbula in early August, the U.S. potato industry has a request for them: Don’t lose sight of what’s happened so far.

The National Potato Council (NPC) and numerous state potato organizations issued a letter to Vilsack and Tai June 28 detailing the history of the U.S. potato industry’s ongoing trade dispute with Mexico regarding fresh potato access. In April, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled unanimously to overturn a lower court’s ruling that kept fresh potatoes from the U.S. to within 26 kilometers of the border.

After learning from the unpredictability of a saga that spans more than 20 years, NPC CEO Kam Quarles warned then that the high court’s decision might not be the end of the situation. He said the monetary and political influence of a federation of Mexican potato growers (CONPAPA) should not be underestimated.

Shortly after the court ruling, the Mexican Department of Agriculture announced that U.S. fresh potatoes would be required to undergo phytosanitary testing beyond agreed-to protocols and at a lab chosen and paid for by CONPAPA.

“The clear goal of this unilateral change is to manufacture a reason to close the market to U.S. fresh potatoes at some point in the future. Conversely, the U.S. government would never allow a U.S. industry to involve themselves in inspecting and overseeing a competing country’s imports,” the NPC and fellow organizations wrote in the letter to Vilsack and Tai.

“Given this history and these recent developments, we urge USDA and USTR to maintain a ‘trust but verify’ stance with Mexico. Without some sort of leverage, the pattern of CONPAPA’s political influence causing the Mexican government to close the market will simply repeat itself. The Mexican market must not only be opened but remain open.”

Other signers of the letter included United Potato Growers of America, Idaho Grower Shippers Association, Northern Plains Potato Growers Association and state potato or vegetable associations from Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

The letter can be found here.

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