Mexico’s Supreme Court Wednesday delayed a controversial decision on banning U.S. fresh potatoes that could have wider implications on agricultural trade with Mexico.

A lower court previously decided in favor of demands from Mexican potato farmers that U.S. potatoes should be banned, but the U.S. has continued to ship spuds to Mexican buyers under heavy restrictions that only allow them to be delivered 26 kilometers past the border.

The postponement – called for by the justice who issued a draft decision last week in favor of allowing full access to U.S. imports – is disconcerting, National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles tells Agri-Pulse.

Mexico’s Supreme Court – unlike its counterpart in the U.S. - issues a draft ruling in cases before the actual vote takes place. The draft ruling in this case spurred optimism for U.S. potato farmers who are eager to export beyond the 26-kilometer mark and take advantage of demand in populous urban markets like Mexico City.

If the Supreme Court eventually opens the entire country to U.S., the Mexican government is already prepared to lift the 26-kilometer limit because it has already completed the safety assessments needed, according to NPC.

No new date has been set for the decision, but the earliest it could happen is next Wednesday, says NPC.

“If the court doesn’t affirm Mexico’s authority to make import decisions, every ag import that crosses their border is subject to challenge,” Quarles said. “This is way bigger than just potatoes.”

The U.S. exports about $60 million worth of fresh spuds across the southern border every year despite the major Mexican trade barrier. That could rise as high as $200 million per year if the court rules to give U.S. potatoes full access to the Mexican market.

That’s still a relatively small portion of the $19.1 billion worth of total U.S. ag exports to Mexico in 2020, according to USDA data.

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