U.S. Potato Industry Celebrates Mexico’s Supreme Court Decision Overturning Decades-long Ban on U.S. Fresh Potato Imports
WASHINGTON, DC - A decision made by the Mexican Supreme Court earlier this week is making an impact on the fresh produce industry. The court voted unanimously to overturn a 2017 lower court decision that prevented the Mexican federal government from implementing regulations to allow for the import of fresh U.S. potatoes to the country. In a statement released by the National Potato Council and Potatoes USA, the associations cheered the ruling and the end of a decade-long legal process.
“This ruling is consistent with Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA and the WTO. It represents a major step forward in the U.S. potato industry’s efforts to provide consumers throughout Mexico access to fresh, healthy U.S.-grown potatoes,” said Jared Balcom, Vice President of Trade Affairs for the National Potato Council (NPC) and potato grower from Pasco, Washington. “After decades of delay, we hope this ruling represents a light at the end of the tunnel and that Mexican regulators will immediately begin working on regulations to allow for the importation of fresh U.S. potatoes throughout their country.”
Mexico first began allowing for the import of fresh U.S. potatoes in 2003, according to a press release, but has restricted those potatoes to a 26-kilometer area along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is argued that the restriction violated Mexico’s obligations under several trade agreements, including NAFTA, WTO, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
The Mexican government agreed to allow U.S. potatoes full access to the country’s market in 2014, but the National Confederation of Potato Growers of Mexico (CONPAPA) sued the government, claiming that Mexican regulators had no authority to determine if agricultural imports can enter the country.
The Mexican Supreme Court decision ruling on April 28, 2021, rejected these arguments presented by CONPAPA, and reaffirmed that the country’s government does have authority over regulations issues including imports of agricultural and food products.
“Mexican consumers and the chip manufacturers in Mexico have waited way too long to access fresh U.S. potatoes,” stated Jaren Raybould, Chair of Potatoes USA, and a potato grower in Saint Anthony, Idaho. “We are hopeful that with this ruling the authorities will quickly reimplement the market access agreement and allow for high quality U.S. potatoes to be enjoyed throughout Mexico.”
Currently, Mexico is the third largest export market for U.S. potatoes and products. The Mexican market for the category was valued at over $270 million in 2020.
Despite the restrictions, the 26-kilometer area across the Mexican border region is the second largest market for fresh potato exports, accounting for 106,000 metric tons and valued at $60 million. The U.S. potato industry estimates that access to the entire country for fresh U.S. potatoes will provide a market potential of $200 million per year, in five years.
“Mexico offers a significant opportunity for U.S. potato growers,” stated John Toaspern, Chief Marketing Officer at Potatoes USA. “The trade in fruits and vegetables between the U.S. and Mexico is hugely beneficial to growers and consumers in both countries. In fact, Mexican avocados were granted access to the U.S. at the same time as U.S. potatoes to Mexico in 2003. Since that time, the U.S. government has honored the agreement and imports of Mexican avocados are now over $2 billion. The U.S. can supply a wide variety of fresh high-quality potatoes to Mexico, [such as] russets, reds, yellows, whites, fingerlings, and chipping potatoes year-round that are not currently produced there. Mexican retailers, foodservice operators, food manufactures, and ultimately Mexican consumers will benefit from this wide array of high-quality potatoes available year-round.”
NPC CEO Kam Quarles also commented on the recent Mexican Supreme Court decision, showing support for the ruling.
“This is a significant step that effectively ends the legal process that has blocked our access to the Mexican market,” he said. “This effort has spanned numerous administrations and sessions of Congress, but the U.S. position never wavered. We are thankful for everyone at USDA, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Members of Congress who have worked for years to encourage Mexico to lift these protectionist restrictions. We now look forward to working with the Mexican government and its regulatory agencies in immediately reinstating the rules to allow for fresh U.S. potatoes to be shipped and the normalization of trade between our countries.”
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