U.S. potato exports to Mexico are on-again-off-again

Jun 10, 2014

by Rand Green

Just three weeks after the Mexican government implemented its final rule to allow U.S. fresh potatoes into larger cities throughout all of Mexico — part of a bilateral agreement that facilitates trade in fresh potatoes between the two countries — Mexico has backpedaled and said "no" to U.S. potatoes.

How long the border would remain closed to potatoes, or what steps may be required to regain access to the market,were not clear. It was also not clear whether the reversal came as a result of a court injunction or as an action by SAGARPA in response to the filing of the suit.

"Yesterday, the Mexican potato growers association called CONPAPA filed a suit against their Ministry of Agriculture in Mexico [SAGARPA] to block the agreement" that allows for the bilateral trade in potatoes with the United States, Mark Szymanski, director of public relations for the National Potato Council in Washington, DC, said June 10.

"We haven't seen their claims or their filing at all, so we don't have a time frame for when the courts might take up the suit," Szymanski said.

CONPAPA's action came just 21 days after NPC and the United States Potato Board had issued a joint press release announcing that Mexico had opened its doors to U.S. potatoes beyond the 26-kilometer limit that had been in place for a decade.

The announced opening of the market May 19 came “after years of hard work by the U.S. potato industry, USDA and USTR," John Keeling, NPC executive vice president and chief executive officer, had said in a written statement to The Produce News May 21. He had expected "the full opening of the Mexican potato market to U.S.-grown spuds [to] create tremendous opportunities for all the major growing areas."

Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, had told The Produce News May 21, that he saw the agreement as "a very monumental period in history between the two countries" with significance beyond the potato industry.

But apparently, CONPAPA and either a Mexican court or someone at SAGARPA took a different view.

"After 10 years of working toward" the opening of the market "and you think you've got it," finding out that it's not happening after all is "a drag," said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail and international at the Idaho Potato Commission. "But I guess it's part of international trade."

Although it was "not exactly clear" whether the closing of the Mexican border to U.S. potatoes was the result of a court injunction or an agency action, Szymanski said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed that "all border crossing points are closed" to potatoes.

As a result of that closure, "to keep produce from waiting in trucks ... APHIS has stopped issuing phytos [phytosanitary certificates]" for potatoes going to Mexico "until the border points are reopened.

"That is really all the information we have at this point," he said.

Commenting on the on-again-off-again nature of the market access agreement with Mexico, Szymanski said, "I know we're not the first, and we won't be the last, to have that issue."