MEXICO, August 9, 2017 - The often contentious relationship between U.S. and Mexican potato growers just got a bit stickier. A Mexican district court judge in Los Mochis ruled last week that the systems approach for U.S. fresh potato imports “lacks scientific basis” and, citing phytosanitary concerns, ordered a continued ban on U.S. potatoes in most of Mexico.

The legal challenge was not unexpected. After U.S. potato growers first gained access to Mexico beyond the earlier accepted 26-kilometer zone along the border, CONPAPA, an organization representing Mexican potato growers, brought numerous lawsuits to prevent it from happening.

Mexico is the second largest importer of fresh U.S. potatoes, accounting for an average of $24 million annually since the two countries signed an agreement in 2003.

In 2013, Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, SAGARPA, worked to expand upon the 2003 agreement, but was blocked by Mexican potato growers. But U.S. growers have been hopeful about reaching resolution.

“SAGARPA has completed and published a Pest Risk Assessment that demonstrates that any risk from the entry of U.S. fresh potatoes can be safely mitigated. Similar analysis by a panel of third party experts facilitated by the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO) reached a similar conclusion,” according to John Keeling, CEO of the National Potato Council.

The Aug. 4 ruling wasn’t clear on whether or not the 16-mile strip closest to the U.S. border would be affected, which is the only area where U.S. fresh potatoes are currently allowed. However, the National Potato Council’s legal team believes the trade along the border will remain unaffected and that the case will successfully be appealed. “The ruling is expected to be appealed by parties with a direct interest in the case, including SAGARPA,” noted NPC in a release. “The U.S. potato industry is confident that a more thorough review of the facts of this case and the acknowledgement of established phytosanitary trade practices by the judicial system in Mexico will alter the outcome of this decision.”