After a couple of years of rocky trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico, it was encouraging last week that we were able to report some good news: The Mexicans are considering opening more of their country to shipments of fresh U.S. potatoes.
U.S. fresh spuds are now imported only within about 16 miles of the Mexican border.
The Mexican government recently proposed allowing imports of U.S. spud bags over 20 pounds to all of its cities with populations of more than 100,000.
Even with the restrictions, Mexico is the second-largest market for American fresh potatoes. Those sales are worth nearly $40 million. The National Potato Council says that figure would jump to $150 million if the proposal comes to pass.
It was only a few years ago that U.S. potato growers -- along with producers of a long list of American agricultural products -- suffered under punitive tariffs imposed by Mexico over a trucking dispute related to the North American Free Trade Agreement. With the resolution of that dispute last year, and the subsequent lifting of the tariffs, U.S. producers of a number of commodities have begun to make inroads in Mexican markets.
The Mexican government's interest in expanding access to its market seems to be motivated by its desire to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.
As might be expected, the proposal has been met with far less enthusiasm from Mexican potato growers. It's possible that internal politics will scuttle the deal. The weakness of the Mexican economy and its financial infrastructure can also make trade problematic.
But on the whole, the proposal can only be seen as positive news.
Throughout the recession and what has passed for a recovery over the last few years, ag exports have grown and have been a welcome bright spot in an otherwise lackluster economy. Trade has been good for farmers, and it's been good for the country. Anything that can be done to expand our markets abroad should be encouraged.