U.S. Pushes Mexico for Access to Potato Market

Published online: Jul 09, 2021 Articles
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Source: Mexico News Daily

The U.S. pressured Mexico on Wednesday to allow genetically modified crops into the country and to open up access to U.S.-grown potatoes.

U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai pushed for the concessions during a meeting in Mexico City with Mexican agriculture minister Víctor Villalobos and economy minister Tatiana Clouthier.

“Ambassador Tai emphasized the importance of Mexico immediately resuming the authorization of biotechnology products and inquired about the status of expanding access for U.S. fresh potatoes throughout Mexico,” the Office of the U.S. Trade representative said in a statement.

The Mexican government published a decree on the last day of 2020 that stated that the importation of genetically modified corn would be banned by January 2024.

The new North American free trade agreement, called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), has a biotechnology chapter that aims to support cooperation on science that corn, cotton and soybean farmers widely depend on but Mexico hasn’t approved a new agricultural trait since May 2018, reported agriculture news website Agri-Pulse.

“Mexico has not issued a new biotech approval in over three years and, if this continues, farmers won’t have access to these tools,” said Matt O’Mara, vice president of international affairs for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a Washington D.C-based trade organization that represents the biotech industry.

“BIO looks forward to working with the [U.S.] administration to support efforts that resolve this issue in a timely manner, including USMCA enforcement as necessary.”

Iowa senator Chuck Grassley told reporters Wednesday, “We’re going to be fighting for getting our GMOs [genetically modified organisms] into Mexico.”

For his part, National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles said he is pleased that Tai is pressuring Mexican officials to allow more U.S. potatoes into Mexico.

Mexico had granted full access to U.S. potatoes but Mexican farmers were able to halt unfettered entry via legal action. However, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in late April that authorized the federal government to lift barriers to imports. But the government has not yet allowed the flow of American spuds across the border to increase.

“U.S. potato growers appreciate the continued vigilance of Ambassador Tai and Secretary [of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack to ensure this 20-plus-year potato market access dispute finally crosses the finish line,” Quarles said.

“Over the past two decades, we’ve heard Mexico make numerous promises about living up to their end of trade agreements only to backtrack under domestic political pressure and continue to prevent fresh U.S. potatoes from gaining full access to their country. We continue to urge the ambassador and secretary to maintain a ‘trust but verify’ stance with Mexico to ensure their market isn’t just temporarily opened, but instead remains open to high quality fresh U.S. potatoes.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also said that Tai, Villalobos and Clouthier discussed the potential mutual benefits of aligning Mexico and the United States’ policy on ethanol gasoline blends.

In addition, they discussed the implementation of the USMCA’s environment chapter – “including concerns related to the conservation and protection of the vaquita [marina porpoise], illegal fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, and sea turtle bycatch.”

“They agreed to work together to fully implement and enforce the USMCA’s high-standard environmental commitments,” the statement added.

Tai will host a roundtable discussion with Mexican workers and labor leaders in Mexico City on Thursday morning at which she will “highlight the Biden-Harris Administration’s worker-centered trade policy and the United States’ commitment to full implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s labor commitments,” according to her office. 

The Mexican Congress passed a landmark labor reform package in 2019 that was considered crucial for the ratification of the USMCA, which took effect on July 1, 2020.

But two companies operating in Mexico – General Motors and auto parts manufacture Tridonex – have been accused of violating workers’ rights as set out in the USMCA and the U.S. government recently asked Mexico to review the labor situation at the firm’s plants in Silao, Guanajuato, and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, respectively.