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Mexico releases rule involving US fresh spud exports

A longstanding U.S.-Mexican trade dispute appears to be nearing resolution, and U.S. potato growers soon could be selling more fresh spuds to Mexican consumers.

Currently, the Mexican government restricts imports of U.S. fresh potatoes to 26 kilometers, or about 16 miles, from the U.S.-Mexican border. Mexican authorities say they’re worried about pests and disease from U.S. spuds.

In March, however, the Mexican government released a rule that, if implemented, would allow imports into the rest of the country.

About $30 million of U.S. fresh spuds are sold annually to Mexico now. When and if the 26-kilometer restriction is lifted — which could happen by June — another 100 million Mexican consumers would gain access to American fresh spuds.

That could push annual sales of U.S. fresh potatoes in Mexico to $100 million, says John Toaspern, vice president of international marketing for the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, the nation’s potato marketing organization.

But the increase, if it occurs, would happen over time, not right away, he says.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Mexican government’s plant protection organization will work on shipping and labeling requirements.

The U.S. potato industry has worked to gain Mexican access for fresh potatoes since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1992.

In 2003, Mexico agreed to allow U.S. spuds within the first 26 kilometers of the border. It also promised to allow U.S. potatoes into the rest of the country within a few years, but that didn’t happen.

In 2012, however, the Mexican government began its rulemaking process to allow expansion of U.S. fresh potato exports.

That process led to the March release of the new rule on potatoes.

An agreement to open up cross-border trade in potatoes also would allow Mexico to export its potatoes to the U.S. Mexico can’t do that now.

Mexican potato varieties are different from U.S. varieties. That could encourage some U.S. residents familiar with Mexican varieties to buy imported potatoes if they become available, Toaspern says.

Impact on Red River Valley

It’s difficult to say when and how much Red River Valley potato growers would benefit from greater access to Mexican consumers, says Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, based in East Grand Forks, Minn.

The Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is the only region of the nation that produces in volume for the fresh, chip, seed and process markets.

Any increase in U.S. fresh potato sales would help U.S. potato growers, including ones in the Red River Valley. But there’s no way of estimating how Red River Valley growers would share in such an increase, he says.