Cantwell to Lead Washington State Agriculture Trade Mission to Mexico and Cuba

farmers seek access to $20 million opportunity in Mexican potato market

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today announced that she will lead a delegation of Washington state agriculture producers on a trade mission to Mexico next Monday and Tuesday. Cantwell said expanding Mexican markets for Washington State potatoes, apples, and other products will top the delegation’s agenda. The delegation will meet with Mexico’s foreign, trade, and agriculture ministries.

"This trip is all about expanding Mexican markets for Washington state food products," Cantwell said. "Once they get a small taste of Washington’s produce, they will want a bigger bite."

Cantwell announced the trade mission with Valoria Loveland, the Director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Steve Appel, the President of the Washington State Farm Bureau, and Pat Boss, the Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission.

Washington State exported $1.9 billion in agriculture goods worldwide in 2001, $151 million (or 8 percent) of which went to Mexico. Also in 2001, Washington State exported $79 million in apples to Mexico, making Mexico the number one importer of Washington state apples for that year. Through November 2002, Washington exported $131 million in agriculture goods to Mexico, representing 34 percent of the total 2002 exports from Washington to Mexico.

Despite the success of Washington growers in trading with Mexico, there remain significant opportunities. The Mexican fresh potato market alone represents a $20 million opportunity for the United States on an annual basis. Despite this opportunity, Mexico currently blocks potato imports from the U.S., citing phyto-sanitary concerns. In 2001, the Washington State Potato Commission began direct talks with the Mexican government and potato growers in an effort to resolve these issues and pave the way to the historic first-ever opening of the complete Mexican market to Washington fresh potatoes.

Washington State is the second largest potato producing state in the country. The industry harvested $552 million in potatoes, trailing only apples and milk as the leading agricultural product in Washington State. A 2001 Washington State University study concluded that potatoes and related businesses helped create almost 28,000 jobs and more than $3 billion in annual sales.

"Expanding exports to Mexico means more jobs in Washington State," Cantwell said. An estimated 27,400 jobs in Washington state are related to agricultural exports.

Cantwell’s delegation to Mexico City will include representatives of the Washington State Potato Commission and the Northwest Horticulture Council. They will meet with officials from the Mexican Trade Ministry, the Mexican Foreign Ministry, and the Mexican Agriculture Ministry.

While in Mexico, Cantwell and Loveland will co-chair a delegation of Washington state agriculture producers to a U.S.-Cuba Business Summit. The summit will focus on a wide array of issues directly pertaining to marketing and exporting Washington state agriculture products including potatoes, peas, lentils, apples, cherries, pears, wine, and other crops to Cuba. The delegation will conclude the summit with a trip to Havana to meet with key Cuban officials on agriculture trade.

"Increased agriculture trade with Cuba is inevitable," Cantwell said. "I want to help Washington growers get their foot in the door first so that we can make the most out of the expanding trade relationship between the U.S. and Cuba."

Cantwell’s agriculture trade mission to Mexico and Cuba is a part of her larger effort to help Washington state growers expand overseas markets.

In 2002, Cantwell led a successful trade mission to Cuba which resulted in the historic first shipments of Washington state apples, peas, and lentils to Cuba in over forty years. Also in 2002 Cantwell helped open the British Columbia wine market to more than twenty Washington state wineries. Cantwell has also been a strong advocate for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program which helps agriculture producers access foreign markets. She supported a successful expansion of the MAP program to $210 million annually by 2006.