U.S. & Mexico reach agreement to open Mexican markets to Washington potatoes

Cantwell led trade mission to Mexico last month to discuss $20 million opportunity

WASHINGTON, DC –The United States and Mexican governments have reached an agreement opening Mexican markets to fresh Washington potatoes for the first time. The agreement was reached after U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) February trade mission to Mexico to urge opening of the market. The Mexican market represents a $20 million opportunity for Washington state potato growers.

"More potato sales to Mexico means more jobs in Washington state," Cantwell said. "This agreement is a win-win for Washington state and Mexico. Mexico will get the fresh potatoes it needs and Washington state will get access to a $20 million market opportunity."

This agreement follows a February trade mission led by Cantwell that included discussions with the Mexican agricultural ministry and foreign ministry, in which the Senator urged the Mexican government to accept a protocol to allow entry for Washington potatoes. Cantwell's delegation to Mexico City included representatives of the Washington State Potato Commission and the Northwest Horticulture Council.

Senator Cantwell said the agreement was a big victory for the Washington state agriculture industry. "Organizations like the Washington State Potato Commission, the Northwest Horticulture Council, Washington State Farm Bureau, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture really got the ball rolling on this negotiation," Cantwell said. "Today the are realizing the benefits of their years of hard work."

"Senator Cantwell was very instrumental at elevating this issue when she visited Mexico City last month," said Pat Boss, Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission. "We also appreciate USDA Undersecretary Bill Hawkes efforts in keeping this issue at a high priority level at USDA. Undersecretary Hawkes' and Senator Cantwell's efforts certainly played a key role in helping to open up this market for Washington State and US potatoes."

Until this agreement, Mexico had blocked 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 Mexican potato industry in an effort to resolve these issues and pave the way to the historic opening of the complete Mexican market to Washington fresh potatoes.

The agreement between U.S. and Mexico:

Initiates a process and timeline for opening access to Mexican markets for fresh potatoes from the United States. Establishes a phyto-sanitary inspection regime to enable shipment freedom including the use of certified seed potatoes, applying sprout inhibitor, virus and disease inspection, and providing appropriate documentation. Commits the U.S. and Mexican government to the principle of full-market access for fresh potatoes. Washington State is the second largest potato producing state in the country. In 2001, 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.

This agreement builds on Cantwell's successes opening foreign markets to Washington state products:

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.