(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 3) Potato industry leaders are saying an unexpected turnaround by the Mexican government concerning potato import rules would further restrict U.S. access rather than expand it.
For a decade the two countries and potato industry leaders have been working to increase access for U.S. growers. Fresh potatoes from the U.S. are restricted to a 16-mile border zone in Mexico.
In September it looked like the invisible line would be erased because the Mexican government published a proposed rule for full access. It was expected to become law this month. That proposal included mitigation measures for six pests identified by an international panel of experts as the only ones likely to cause problems for Mexico’s potato industry.
Keeling “In November they published a document ignoring the experts and naming 80 pests,” said John Keeling, chief executive officer for the National Potato council, Washington, D.C.
The Nov. 20 proposed rule also calls for irradiation of potatoes being imported into Mexico. Keeling said the combined effect of that requirement and the list of 80 pests will further restrict U.S. exports of fresh potatoes to Mexico, rather than open up the country as was detailed in a 2003 market access agreement.
The Mexican government is accepting comments on the proposed rule for 60 days after the Nov. 20 publication date. Comments must be submitted in Spanish and “must be of a scientific and technical basis,” according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
The USDA report includes additional details on how to comment.
Keeling said it is not clear why the Nov. 20 proposal is so different than the one published in September. He has hopes the election of Mexico’s new president Enrique Pena Nieto will help with efforts to restore the previous plan.
“We are encouraging (growers and exporters) to submit comments describing their mitigation measures,” Keeling said.
Some in the fresh produce industry believe the about face on the potato rule is a retaliatory move by Mexico in response to Florida tomato growers challenging the suspension agreement for their commodity.
However, Keeling doesn’t think the trade issues are dependent on each other.
“When you have a trade dispute as big as the tomato agreement it of course colors all aspects of trade,” Keeling said Jan. 2.
“But the potato discussion has been going on for years and has been contentious. I really don’t think the tomato agreement has any impact on us (the potato industry).”