(UPDATED COVERAGE, June 22) Potatoes may be the biggest winner from Mexico’s inclusion in negotiations of a new trade agreement, but all U.S. produce commodities could see from lower tariffs in fast-growing Asian markets and speedy resolution of phytosanitary disputes.
In addition to Mexico, Canada was also invited to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in mid-June by the U.S. and eight other countries in the agreement.
The agreement is expected to help open the door for expanded U.S. potato exports to Mexico, a long-awaited move for the U.S. industry.
If full access to Mexico is won, fresh potato exports could jump from $30 million to $150 million, according to the National Potato Council.
A 2003 agreement between the two countries promised full access for U.S. potatoes, but shipments since then have been limited to 26 kilometers (about 16 miles).
“This would unlock the 26-kilometer barrier,” said Mark Szymanski, director of public relations for the Washington, D.C.-based potato council.
U.S. potato exports to the countries originally included in the negotiations were less than $80 million. Adding Mexico could be a big step up in fresh export potential, Szymanski said.
Canada’s involvement may be a positive as well, said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based council.
“Hopefully including them in the TPP will improve their ability to apply science to phytosanitary issues and to function as a trading partner that treats U.S. potato exports to Canada in a more balanced manner,” Keeling said in a June 21 e-mail.
Although apples, pears and cherries have tariff-free access to Mexico and Canada, Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said he is hopeful the agreement could offer stronger language to resolve phytosanitary barriers.
In addition, Powers said the Northwest tree fruit industry would like to see the inclusion of more fast-growing Asian countries such as Thailand in the trade agreement.
The pending trade deal also includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Japan has also expressed strong interest in the negotiations.
Bob Schramm, lobbyist with Schramm, Williams & Associates Inc., Washington, D.C., said negotiators have indicated they would like to conclude the agreement this year.
“Right now it is the only game we have in reference to international trade and we need to move forward,” he said.
The trade deal will provide producers and exporters of fruits and vegetables with preferential access and the elimination of existing tariffs in emerging markets such as Vietnam and Malaysia, according to Carol Guthrie, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for public and media affairs.
Guthrie said bilateral consultations with Japan about the agreement are continuing, but she said much more work remains to be done before they join the talks.
“We need to be assured that Japan is ready to address bilateral issues of concern. We understand Japan’s government also still needs to make its own final decision to formally seek TPP membership,” Guthrie said in an e-mail.