For fresh U.S. potato shippers such as Lance Poole of Idaho Falls, gaining full access to the Mexican market has been a frustrating and elusive pursuit, offering the promise of a huge reward.
“I’ve been fighting this battle for 15 years and have personally been to Mexico City at least five different times,” said Poole, executive vice president of sales at Eagle Eye Produce.
On April 28, the Mexican Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling to finally grant full access to fresh U.S. potatoes, which should soon end Mexico’s longtime policy restricting fresh imports from the U.S. to within 26 kilometers of its border with the U.S.
Mexico has been allowing limited imports of fresh U.S. spuds since 2003 — only to border towns. The import restriction has violated several trade agreements, according to the National Potato Council, which lobbies on behalf of America’s potato industry.
The country briefly granted full access to fresh U.S. potato shippers in 2014 but shut down access beyond the 26-kilometer zone again three weeks later, after the National Confederation of Potato Growers of Mexico sued its own government. CONPAPA contended the Mexican government lacked authority to determine if agricultural imports should be allowed.
The court roundly rejected that argument in the recent ruling, and officials estimate it will take between a few weeks and a couple of months for the Mexican government to implement the necessary policies to reinstate full access.
Even with the 26-kilometer restriction in place, Mexico is already the No. 2 export market for fresh U.S. potatoes, accounting for about 106,000 metric tons valued at more than $60 million in 2020. NPC projects the market has the potential to be worth $200 million in annual exports within five years.
“This will be the largest export market the U.S. has had access to,” Poole said of the potential.
Poole expects it will take about five years for Mexicans further south, who traditionally have eaten white potatoes, to become accustomed to the brown-skinned Russets commonly raised in the U.S. American shippers also intend to send plenty of red-, yellow- and white-skinned fresh potatoes to Mexico.