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U.S. proposes regs for importing fresh spuds from Mexico

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

The USDA has released a draft version of the requirements Mexican potato exporters will be expected to follow in order to ship fresh spuds to the U.S., an important step in efforts to open the border between the two countries to fresh potato trade.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has proposed parameters for accepting imports of fresh potatoes from Mexico, representing another step forward in a decade-long effort to fully open fresh spud trade between the two countries.

The rule, published in the Sept. 27 Federal Register, requires any Mexican spuds imported by the U.S. to be produced by a grower registered in a certification program, packed in registered facilities and treated with sprout inhibitor after cleaning.

Spuds would be inspected after packing for any quarantine pests and accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate indicating compliance with the conditions of importation. Mexico’s National Plant Protection Organization would be required under the proposed rule to provide a plan detailing how it would meet the conditions, subject to approval by APHIS. Public comment is now being accepted.

Current policy restricts Mexican fresh spud imports into the U.S. and limits fresh U.S. spuds to an area within 16 miles of Mexico from the U.S. border. Potato industry leaders believe now is the opportune time to push for full fresh potato access in Mexico due to the country’s desire to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Mexico, which represents a major market for fresh U.S. growers, commenced its rule making process for nationwide fresh U.S. spud imports in September of 2012. Last fall, the Mexican government proposed policy changes identifying 83 pests of concern with U.S. spuds — even for imports within the 16-mile buffer zone — and opening borders to other potato countries.

The National Potato Council sent comments about the revision to the Mexican government in December, noting the two governments had previously agreed to abide by the findings of an expert North American Plant Protection Organization panel that listed only six pests of potential concern.

In its comment, NPC described Mexico’s proposed policy as “a protectionist document designed specifically to stop trade.” NPC spokesman Mark Szymanski said Mexico is expected to soon release a revised policy factoring in public comments.

“We have hopes that it will be more in line with our public comments,” Szymanski said.

John Toaspern, international marketing vice president with the U.S. Potato Board, explained Mexican farmers raise mostly round, white-skinned spuds.

“It will take some time to educate their consumers to build up the understanding of U.S. potatoes,” Toaspern said.

He said their potato prices are substantially higher than in the U.S., and he’s uncertain how many Mexican spuds might enter the U.S.

“We view the Mexican market as a very good opportunity. They don’t produce enough potatoes to meet their demand,” Toaspern said. “We could certainly increase our sales if we had access to their entire country.”

Lynn Wilcox, with Wilcox Fresh in Rexburg, Idaho, ships fresh spuds within the allowed buffer area and said Russets have caught on there. He’d like to see U.S. politicians step up their pressure on the Mexican government to remove its fresh trade barriers.

“We’re already several years behind. It’s a marketplace that should have been opened a long time ago,” Wilcox said.



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