Jul 15, 2021
USTR Tai presses Mexican officials on fresh potatoes update

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with Mexican officials July 7 to discuss trade frictions between the two countries, including ag-related challenges.

Katherine Tai

In a readout after the meeting, USTR reported that Ambassador Tai pressed her counterpart for an update on the country’s progress on increasing access for U.S. fresh potatoes.

In response to the meeting, National Potato Council (NPC) CEO Kam Quarles issued the following statement:

“U.S. potato growers appreciate the continued vigilance of Ambassador Tai and Secretary Vilsack to ensure this 20-plus year potato market access dispute finally crosses the finish line. Over the past two decades, we’ve heard Mexico make numerous promises about living up to their end of trade agreements only to backtrack under domestic political pressure and continue to prevent U.S. fresh potatoes from gaining full access to their country. We continue to urge the Ambassador and Secretary to maintain a ‘trust but verify’ stance with Mexico to ensure their market isn’t just temporarily opened, but instead remains open to high quality U.S. fresh potatoes.”

Although the Mexican Supreme Court unanimously ruled in late April that Mexico has the authority to reinstate market access for U.S. fresh potatoes, the government has not moved forward in issuing regulations to reinstate that access. This week’s meeting precedes a meeting expected in August between USDA Secretary Vilsack and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Villalobos, which is also to include discussions around resolving Mexico’s long-standing dispute with the U.S. on fresh potatoes.

Executive Order addresses corporate consolidation in agriculture

On July 9, President Biden issued an Executive Order that, among other things, directs USDA to take actions to curb the market power of agribusiness companies, including by enabling growers to repair high-tech machinery. The order builds off USDA announcements to write new regulations strengthening the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) and concerns over the “Products of the USA” meat labels.

In the “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” the President:

  • “Encourages the FTC to limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs — such as when tractor companies block farmers from repairing their own tractors;”
  • “Directs USDA to develop a plan to increase opportunities for farmers to access markets and receive a fair return, including supporting alternative food distribution systems like farmers markets and developing standards and labels so that consumers can choose to buy products that treat farmers fairly.”

The Executive Order fact sheet can be found here.

Exports show uptick

USDA reported that exports of U.S. fresh fruits and vegetables showed moderate growth from January-May 2021, compared to the same period in 2020, with fruits up 7% percent and vegetables up 3% year-over-year. Comparatively, U.S. fresh potatoes saw a significantly higher increase, up 11%, or $97.2 million, over 2020.

— National Potato Council

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