(UPDATED COVERAGE, Sept. 27) After years of lobbying for full entry of tablestock potatoes into Mexico, the U.S. potato industry is hopeful a Mexican proposal to do just that holds.

The government of Mexico proposed in September to allow U.S. fresh potatoes throughout the country; exports are limited to a 26-kilometer- (16 mile-) range into Mexico.

UPDATED:  Support for Mexican plan to expand potato access“We are positive and cautiously optimistic and believe the publication of the documents in Mexico represent a positive next step,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C. “There will continue to be opposition from the growers in Mexico, but we expected that.”

The proposal and comments will be considered in the next few weeks, he said Sept. 26.

In comments by the National Potato Council to the Mexican Secretary of Agriculture (SAGARPA), Keeling said the U.S. is confident of its ability to supply clean potatoes to Mexico.

“The U.S. potato industry is certain we can continue to provide high-quality potatoes to the Mexican market that pose no threat to Mexican agriculture, as evidenced by the fact that pest finds on current shipments are less than a half of one percent,” Keeling wrote in a Sept. 18 letter.

Keeling said the expansion could allow U.S. potato exports to reach 70 million to 80 million more consumers in Mexico.

“It’s a very big deal and a good thing for Mexico, too, in terms of year-round access to potatoes,” he said.

Expansion of the market couldn’t happen too soon, said Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn.

“We are going to be looking at overproduction probably in the U.S. this year and additional exports into Mexico would be very beneficial,” he said.

Gunnerson said he hopes for progress on the proposal by the first of the year.

From January to July 2012, U.S. fresh potato exports to Mexico totaled $21.8 million, up 6% from the same period a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Full access to the Mexican market would bring $150 million in export values, according to potato industry leaders.

A March 2003 U.S.-Mexico market access agreement allowed fresh U.S. potatoes from all 50 states into the 26-kilometer deep area along the border of Mexico. The agreement also called for increased access to the five northern Mexican states in 2004 and for consideration of full access by 2005, but Mexico has failed to deliver on those commitments.