WASHINGTON, D.C. — All of Mexico may be open to importing fresh, U.S. potatoes before June, based on a final rule the Mexican government recently published setting protocols for fresh potato trade between the two countries.
The agreement is scheduled for enactment 60 days following its March 19 publication in Mexico’s federal register. The final rule also provides a framework other potato exporting countries may follow to submit plans to access Mexico.
Mexico has restricted U.S. fresh potato access to within 16 miles of the border since March of 2003. Despite the restriction, Mexico has become the No. 2 importer of fresh U.S. spuds.
The announcement is the culmination of a decade of work. Industry sources estimate the announcement should eventually result in $100 million in additional annual fresh U.S. table and chipping spud sales.
Mexico’s final rule requires U.S. potatoes to be shipped in containers of no more than 20 pounds, cleaned and treated with a sprout inhibitor. Potato access beyond the 16-mile boundary is also limited to cities with populations of at least 100,000 people.
National Potato Council President Randy Hardy, of Oakley, Idaho, said the requirements aim to assure the Mexican government that its growers won’t plant fresh imports as seed.
Hardy laments that the cooperative he chairs, Sun Valley Potatoes, won’t be able to ship any fresh spuds from the 2013 crop because none of its fields were tested for pale cyst nematode, which is an existing requirement of Idaho spuds bound for Mexico. Sun Valley plans to PCN test all of its fields this spring. Only a few Idaho fresh potato shippers now deal in Mexico.
“We’ve really got to be cautious going in there that we don’t flood it,” Hardy said.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will publish its own final soon, according to NPC.
Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, believes Idaho and Colorado are ideally located to benefit from the change. IPC already has a Mexico City office, which also serves South America.
Within the 16-mile area where imports have been allowed, Muir said, Idaho has worked to develop its brand, and consumers have shifted from eating mostly traditional small, white potatoes to 86 percent Russets. Muir said most Mexican buyers who are already working with Idaho also have stores further south.
“This is the first day of what we think will be a very important relationship with Mexico,” Muir said.
John Toaspern, U.S. Potato Board’s chief marketing officer, said potatoes are already the second most consumed vegetable in Mexico, and No. 1 among families with children.
“With all market access work you are never certain until it is actually in place, but we are optimistic that the remaining pieces will fall into place within the next 60 days as they should,” Toaspern said.
Toaspern said USPB intends to soon offer workshops to educate shippers about trading with Mexico. He emphasized the agreement also opens the U.S. to fresh Mexican potatoes, which have thus far not been exported into America.
“We really do hope and think through our efforts we can raise potato consumption overall such that Mexican growers don’t lose out in terms of volume of sales in the country,” Toaspern said