U.S. fresh potatoes are now allowed into all of Mexico, and the U.S. potato industry plans to expand its marketing efforts there.
“It’s still early in the process, and everybody is still figuring it out. But, initially at least, a lot of our focus is on increasing demand for potatoes overall,” says John Toaspern, vice president of international marketing for the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, the nation’s potato marketing organization.
On May 19, Mexico implemented an administrative rule allowing U.S. fresh potatoes into the entire country. Previously, Mexico, citing concern about pests and disease from U.S. spuds, allowed U.S. potatoes only within the first 26 kilometers, or about 16 miles, of the U.S.-Mexican border.
“We’re obviously very pleased,” Toaspern says of the change.
About $30 million of U.S. fresh potatoes are sold annually in Mexico now. U.S. officials estimate that could increase over time to $100 million annually.
Currently, Mexicans on average eat about one-fifth as many potatoes annually as Americans, according to figures from Toaspern.
Mexican consumers generally are more sensitive to price than American consumers, but American potatoes will be “very competitive” in price to Mexican potatoes now available to consumers there, he says.
Educating Mexican consumers about potatoes’ nutritional benefits and the various ways in which potatoes can be prepared will win sales for U.S. potatoes, Toaspern says.
Some in U.S. agriculture wonder whether the ongoing sugar dispute between Mexico and the U.S. will affect potatoes.
Toaspern says he and his organization are focused primarily on marketing.
The U.S. potato industry began working to gain Mexican access to fresh potatoes when the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1992.
In 2003, Mexico agreed to the 26-kilometer restriction. U.S. potato officials have worked since then to open up the rest of the country.
The Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is the only region of the nation that produces in volume for the fresh, chip, seed and process markets.
Officials with the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association based in East Grand Forks, Minn., have said Red River Valley growers will benefit from greater access to Mexican consumers, but that it’s difficult to estimate how much.