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Cantwell, Senators Urge Administration to Resolve Issues with Mexico Prohibiting Full Market Access for U.S. Potatoes

WA state ranks second in the nation in potato production, but U.S. fresh potatoes can’t be sold in most of Mexico

Thursday, May 24,2012


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) led a bipartisan group of Senators in urging the Obama Administration to work with Mexican authorities to expand U.S. fresh potato access throughout Mexico. Currently, American potatoes can only be exported to a region within 16 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a letter sent today to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Cantwell and eight other Senators urged the Administration to resolve outstanding issues with Mexico that restrict market access.

Nationwide, Washington state is the second largest producer of potatoes and the third largest exporter of fresh potatoes to Mexico. Last year, Washington state supplied one-fifth of all U.S. fresh potatoes exported to Mexico. According to the Washington State Potato Commission, economists estimate the annual economic impact of Washington potato production, packing and processing to be approximately $3 billion.

The bipartisan letter sent today was signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jim Risch (R-ID), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Herb Kohl (D-WI).

“As Mexico’s potential entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations continues to be discussed, we urge your Agencies to work with Mexico to resolve the outstanding concerns on market access for U.S. fresh potatoes,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “The failure by Mexico to resolve the potato market access dispute is concerning, given the growing evidence that any risks associated with the movement of fresh potatoes from the United States to Mexico can be effectively mitigated. We strongly urge you to continue to push Mexico on resolving these technical issues and communicate to Mexico the importance of implementing the market access agreement for U.S. fresh potatoes.”

The United States and Mexico agreed in February 2011 to convene an expert panel to review the technical issues associated with expanded access for U.S. fresh potatoes in Mexico. In September 2011, the independent panel of three potato and international quarantine experts made recommendations to address the differences between the two countries. Due to disagreements between Mexico and the panel experts regarding Mexico’s insistence on imposing additional mitigation measures for pests the panel did not deem a threat, the panel was unsuccessful in securing an agreement and progress has stalled.

In the letter sent today, the Senators said of the panel’s findings: “This unnecessary requirement by the Mexican government has led to the deadlock that we currently face on this issue. These extra and unnecessary mitigation measures are an effective trade barrier that is not supported by science.  …We hope that the very limited set of remaining issues identified by the panel will be resolved quickly, and U.S. potatoes will gain fair and full access to Mexican markets.”

Cantwell has long been a supporter of expanded U.S. potato access in Mexico. On April 18th, during a Finance Subcommittee hearing, Cantwell pressed the nation’s top negotiator for agricultural trade issues to continue working to gain full access to Mexico’s markets for American potatoes.

Watch a video of Cantwell remarks at the April 18th hearing.

In December 2010, Cantwell sent a letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging an agreement with Mexico to allow American potato growers full access to Mexico’s markets. Since Vilsack’s trip to Mexico in December 2010, Mexico has agreed to move forward on opening up full access for American potato growers but progress has stalled.

In 2003, Cantwell traveled to Mexico with the Washington Potato Commission to support expanded fresh potato trade with Mexico. Shortly thereafter, Mexico agreed to allow fresh potato exports into the 16-mile zone, with the expectation that all of Mexico would soon be open to American potato exports. Prior to the 2003 U.S.-Mexican agreement, Mexico allowed no fresh potato exports from the United States. Since the agreement, Mexico has become the second largest buyer of U.S. fresh potatoes, importing nearly $40 million worth in 2011.

The full text of the letter sent today follows:

May 24, 2012

The Honorable Ron Kirk

United States Trade Representative

600 17th Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20508

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

14th and Independence SW

Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Vilsack:

As you are both aware, we have been very supportive of efforts to obtain access for U.S. potatoes to all of Mexico.  In spite of these efforts Mexico has failed to fulfill the requirements of the market access agreement signed by the United States and Mexico in 2003 that established a clear path for achieving better access for our nation’s potato products. As Mexico’s potential entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations continues to be discussed, we urge your Agencies to work with Mexico to resolve the outstanding concerns on market access for U.S. fresh potatoes.

Recently, an international panel of experts was convened to review the technical issues associated with expanded market access. According to the panel of experts, only 6 of the 67 pests that Mexico raised issue with were found to be “of concern.” During the mediation, it was initially agreed that mitigation measures would be taken for 3 of the pests. However, Mexico later insisted that mitigation be done for 33 pests, even though the panel of experts did not consider these a risk for spreading through fresh potatoes. This unnecessary requirement by the Mexican government has led to the deadlock that we currently face on this issue. These extra and unnecessary mitigation measures are an effective trade barrier that is not supported by science. 

Further, in addition to the pest concerns, the panel examined and found that Mexico has not applied established principles for dealing with the sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues. We hope that the very limited set of remaining issues identified by the panel will be resolved quickly, and U.S. potatoes will gain fair and full access to Mexican markets. Taking steps to address these outstanding market access issues would send a very positive signal that Mexico is willing to work on constructive solutions and create better trade policy. 

The failure by Mexico to resolve the potato market access dispute is concerning, given the growing evidence that any risks associated with the movement of fresh potatoes from the United States to Mexico can be effectively mitigated.  We strongly urge you to continue to push Mexico on resolving these technical issues and communicate to Mexico the importance of implementing the market access agreement for U.S. fresh potatoes.

Sincerely,

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