Mexican potato farmers have turned to the courts to stop spuds from the United States flooding the country.
They have taken the battle to Mexico’s supreme court, which has twice in the past six weeks temporarily halted the import of additional US potatoes.
Due to Mexican trade barriers, America is currently only permitted to export spuds to wholesalers within 26 kilometres of the US/Mexico border.
Even with these restrictions, the US still exports some $60 million (£43.3 million) worth of potatoes across the southern border every year.
And that could rise to $200 million per year if the Mexican court is persuaded to rule in favour of giving the US full access to the Mexican market.
Mexico’s National Federation of Potato Producers (CONPAPA) president Gerardo García Menaut told the website Agri-Pulse: “The potato growers will keep fighting to protect Mexican phytosanitary measures.
“The farmers are not against commerce… but they are focused on protecting plant health. They are trying to protect themselves.”
But Kam Quarles, CEO of the US-based National Potato Council, claimed the court action was an effort by Mexican farmers to restrict competition rather than based on any bio-security concerns.
The Mexican supreme court deferred its decision amid a media storm during which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was urged to drop the case.
CONPAPA, in a statement, said: “We request the President to instruct the head of the Ministry of Agriculture to withdraw (the) appeal for review.”
According to Mexican data, US potato consignments were rejected at the border some 900 times between 2003 and 2010 due to quality concerns over pests or diseases.
The 26 kilometre restriction on US spuds entering Mexico has been in place for almost the past two decades.
It was meant to be an intermediate step to the full opening of the Mexican market to US spuds once the American vegetables had been declared free of any pest or disease risks – but that has still to happen.
An attempt by the Mexican government to move the deal forward in 2012 caused fury among the country’s farmers.
Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture completed a risk analysis that would have cleared US potatoes for imports, but Mexican potato farmers filed several lawsuits to stop the process.
Mr Quarles said the National Potato Council was ready to give up on the Mexican legal system and ask the US to file a complaint through the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“We were always trying to be optimists, but now that we’ve gotten two pretty clear indications that something other than the law is operating down there, I think we’re right on the brink of asking USDA and the USTR to pursue the USMCA route,” he said.
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