Today, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging him to prioritize advancing an agreement that will help U.S. potato growers increase their access to markets in Mexico. Vilsack is scheduled to meet with Mexico's Agriculture Secretary on Tuesday.
The senators, who have long fought to open markets in Mexico, emphasized that a resolution would support new jobs in Colorado, particularly in the San Luis Valley region. Currently, U.S. growers are allowed to sell potatoes in a limited area within 26 kilometers of the U.S./Mexico border. This restriction is in place despite an agreement made in 2003 to discuss expanding the market to all of Mexico.
According to industry estimates, if U.S. potato growers had full access to the Mexican market, total exports could exceed $130 million annually, supporting more jobs, particularly in agriculture.
"This will translate into more U.S. jobs, especially in the agriculture sector and rural communities across the nation - particularly in our state of Colorado where agriculture ranks in the top three economic sectors, with agricultural exports rising by more than 23 percent last year alone," the senators wrote. "With each additional season of delay, American producers are forgoing valuable economic opportunities. We thank you for your continued efforts to find a bilateral resolution that ensures a fair trade environment in Mexico for American potato producers. "
A copy of the letter follows.
December 12, 2011
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We write in regard to your upcoming meeting with Mexican Agriculture Secretary Mayorga to discuss market access for fresh potato exports from the United States into Mexico. We know a resolution this issue has been the focus of an ongoing effort by you and your staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and we express our gratitude and continued support.
As you are aware, in March 2003, Mexico and the United States signed an agreement that, if fully implemented as envisioned, would expand market opportunities for U.S. potato farmers while providing direct benefits to Mexican consumers. Unfortunately, consumers in Mexico still do not have full access to U.S. potatoes as outlined in the 2003 agreement. It is our understanding that U.S. potato growers only have access to a 26-kilometer area directly south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Since the inception of the 2003 agreement, U.S. fresh potato exports to Mexico have increased to approximately $30 million a year. Once full access is allowed, even conservative industry predictions of fresh potato exports to Mexico estimate we could see that number increase to more than $130 million. This will translate into more U.S. jobs, especially in the agriculture sector and rural communities across the nation - particularly in our state of Colorado where agriculture ranks in the top three economic sectors, with agricultural exports rising by more than 23 percent last year alone.
We thank you for your continued efforts to find a bilateral resolution that ensures a fair trade environment in Mexico for American potato producers. We truly appreciate your commitment to realizing the full potential of the 2003 agreement.
As you have noted in previous correspondence, agricultural trade represents great opportunity to support one of America's most significant growth engines. In an effort to promote increased market access, Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper and Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar have also worked toward finding a resolution to this matter by highlighting the proven preventative measures that are currently implemented by the U.S. to ensure that American potatoes pose no phytosanitary risk to the Mexican domestic potato market. With each additional season of delay, American producers are forgoing valuable economic opportunities.
We fully support a bilateral solution to this matter and understand that your discussions are focused on this goal. We encourage you to collaborate with the U.S. Trade Representative to review this market access issue vis-à-vis the United States' and Mexico's shared commitment to open markets and meeting our obligations under international trade agreements. A bilateral solution would be a key victory for both nations.
Mark Udall Michael F. Bennet