Aug 26, 2020US potato reps hopeful on Mexico court case, but eyeing alternatives
National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles discussed the U.S. potato industry’s ongoing trade dispute with Mexico during the latest “Eye on Potatoes” podcast.
The dispute is centered around a 20-year-old-potatoes-for-avocados agreement between the two governments that allowed the Mexican avocado market to expand in the U.S. in exchange for expansion of U.S. potato access to Mexican consumers.
During the “Avocados for Potatoes” episode, released Aug. 26, Quarles touches on the history of that agreement and how events have unfolded to the current point in time, when U.S.-grown fresh potatoes can only be sold to a fraction of Mexican buyers, in spite of the fact that the original 2000 agreement stipulates otherwise.
Currently, there is and appeals case in the Mexican supreme court that stems from a 2014 lawsuit in which representatives from the Mexican potato industry sued and won a case against the Mexican government to keep U.S. potato access to within 26 kilometers of the border.
The appeals case, which has been in the supreme court since last year and has been delayed by COVID-19, could be decided upon within the next few months, Quarles said. He added that the legal case is very complicated and therefore hard to predict because of the precedence it could set for Mexico’s agriculture trade.
“The cases against the Mexican government are extremely far-reaching,” he said. “They go beyond the question whether potatoes can come into Mexico. They really call into question the Mexican government’s ability to make an import determination on any agricultural product. … That could have dire economic consequences for that country.”
Quarles said the 26-kilometer limit is a clear violation of the 2000 trade agreement and is hopeful the court will ultimately rule that way. If it doesn’t, however, industry leaders and legislators are looking at next-step plans, specifically using the dispute resolution system of the newly implemented U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement.
On Aug. 18, three U.S. senators — two from Idaho and one from Colorado — penned a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging them to do just that.
“The senators are concerned about this foot-dragging,” said Quarles, later adding: “This needs to be brought to a close. I think that’s the rather emphatic statement that Senators Gardner, Risch and Crapo were making in the letter.”
Be sure to check out the full podcast episode here.
— By Zeke Jennings, managing editor
Photo: Kam Quarles, right, of the National Potato Council chats with NPC Executive Committee member Jared Balcom of Balcom & Moe during Potato Expo 2019.