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Proposal a light at the end of the tunnel for potato growers

by Lora Abcarian | January 13, 2011
Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington State Potato Commission, said that he is heartened by a proposal drafted by the U.S. Department of Transportation that would once again allow Mexican truckers access to American roadways.

A 2007 pilot program implemented through the Department of Transportation gave Mexican carriers limited access to American roadways at the same time American carriers were operating within the first 25 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border.

In 2009, President Obama signed legislation included in an appropriations bill that eliminated the program. In retaliation, the Mexican government slapped a 20 percent tariff on frozen potato products exported from the United States. The tariff was eventually lowered to 5 percent during the summer of 2009. Tariffs were also imposed on commodities such as apples, pears and onions, agricultural sectors that are also vital to Washington and the Pacific Northwest.

Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, said that losses to the state's potato producers as a result of the tariff have been devastating. With an $80 million market in Mexico, he told The Produce News Jan. 11, "At one point, we lost half that market."

“The concept document is a good step forward,” Mr. Harris said about the current proposal. “It looks a lot like the original pilot program. The Mexican government has come out and said this is a good step forward.”

One of the factors that influenced the administration’s decision to terminate the pilot program with Mexico involved vehicle safety. Mr. Harris said that the new concept document addresses safety issues and vehicle standards. Other issues addressed in the concept document are insurance and inspections.

“As this is moving forward, the United States and Mexico are looking at the proposal to make it a fit for both countries,” Mr. Harris said, adding that it will be difficult to predict when a final agreement will be reached.

The Washington State Potato Commission is monitoring the situation, and Washington’s congressional delegation has been working diligently to implement the pilot program.