Canadian potato growers eye new opportunities in Mexico

Border opened Agreement may create a new market for exports to Mexico, as well as increased business to the United States

After several years of gloomy news, North America’s potato industry finally has something to celebrate.

Mexico opened its border to fresh potatoes from the United States in May, which could significantly boost exports from Colorado and Texas and have favourable results even for Canada’s industry .

“The agreements to dramatically expand trade in fresh potatoes between the United States and Mexico are important steps in the continued partnership between the two countries,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council in the U.S.

“Expanded fresh potato trade with Mexico will benefit consumers in Mexico and potato growers in Colorado as the market grows.”

Kevin MacIsaac, United Potato Growers of Canada general manager, said American politicians and potato industry groups have tried to open up the Mexican market for more than a decade.

Prior the recent agreement, Mexico imported about 1.8 million hundredweight (cwt.) of fresh potatoes from the U.S. annually. However, trade was restricted to 26 kilometres from the U.S.-Mexican border.

Under the new deal, Mexico will allow fresh potatoes into the entire country, which could boost imports by 12-20 million cwt. per year.

MacIssac said those are “big numbers”, because Prince Edward Island, the heart of Canada’s potato industry, produces about 24 million cwt. of potatoes annually.

“In the potato industry, there hasn’t been a lot of big, positive things lately,” he said from his office in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

“We’ve been talking about declining consumption, declining sales and declining acreage. This is actually an opportunity where we can replace some of what’s lost, if not gain a little more, on top of that.”

Mexico already imports french fries but opening the border to fresh potatoes is significant.

“With a per capita consumption of 37 lb. per (person) and a population of 120,000,000 people, it represents a home for a lot of spuds,” the United Potato Growers of Canada said in a statement.

MacIsaac said there are two opportunities for Canada: exporting more potatoes to the U.S and shipping directly to Mexico.

Potato producers in Colorado and Texas are well positioned to export more potatoes to Mexico, which should reduce overall American supplies.

“As the U.S. exports some of their product… it gives us an opportunity, especially in Western Canada, to ship into the U.S.,” MacIsaac said.

The United Potato Growers of Canada are also considering the possibility of exporting east coast potatoes by ship to Mexico, from Halifax, St. John and Montreal.

“The freight advantage that Canada might have into the Mexican port of entry would be by water,” the Potato Growers said in a statement. “ (Canadian) potatoes currently shipped into the Caribbean market enjoy that shipping route now.”

The U.S. National Potato Council said the deal is “part of a bi-lateral agreement that facilitates trade in fresh potatoes between” Mexico and America.

David Fairbourn, United States Potato Board spokesman, wasn’t willing to comment on the Mexican deal and how it applies to Canadian fresh potatoes.

MacIsaac said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will have to work with Mexican regulators on protocols, but he’s hopeful Mexico will also accept fresh potatoes from Canada.

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