Mexico appears to be moving quickly to prepare for an influx of U.S. potatoes and U.S. farmers are already looking forward to increased sales across the southern border, says National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles.

The Mexican government has previously said it wouldn’t begin the regulatory work to allow for more U.S. potatoes, but it is preparing, Quarles told Agri-Pulse. Earlier this month Mexico published new phytosanitary requirements for the importation of U.S. potatoes, and now the government has released an operational work plan — essentially the foundation for import procedures — for the spuds.

Mexico’s top court ruled in April that the government could lift its barrier to imports of fresh U.S. potatoes. That has not happened yet, and Mexico currently only allows U.S. potatoes to be sold within 26 kilometers of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Full access to Mexico for U.S. fresh potatoes is expected to translate into an additional $150 million of U.S. exports, annually, Quarles said. As of now, the U.S. is exporting about $50 million per year to Mexico. Trade is much bigger if you include frozen french fries, which are not limited. U.S. exports of all potato and potato products jump to about $1 billion per year.

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It was about 20 years ago that Mexico agreed to partially open its borders to U.S. potatoes, but said it wasn’t ready to grant full access because of concerns for pests and disease. And then 10 years later the U.S. and Mexico reached a deal to allow full access to U.S. potatoes. Mexico, in return, would be allowed to enter into negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Lawsuits by Mexican potato farmers sought to stop their government from easing import barriers, but it wasn’t until this year that the Mexican Supreme Court finally issued a ruling on two of the cases. Now, lower courts are using that decision as a precedent to clear the legal slate.

All of the cases but one have been dispatched. Quarles stressed that NPC is “cautiously optimistic" about the Mexican market. 

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