The Potato Industry Rejoicing over Expanded Access to the Mexican Market

by IS_Indust

Two years after the opening of the Mexican market for U.S. potato exports, industry experts discussed the efforts involved in gaining expanded access and outlined plans for further business development in Mexico. A panel consisting of National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles, consultant Matt Lantz from Bryant Christie Inc., and Kim Breshears from Potatoes USA gathered during the recent Potato Expo in Austin, TX, providing insights into the issue and a roadmap for future endeavors. Quarles highlighted the resilience of the U.S. industry, which persevered through political challenges to secure increased access beyond the initial 26-kilometer border region in Mexico.

“We initially thought we would face a situation with no market access in Mexico,” Quarles remarked, “but through persistent efforts and with the favorable outcome of the battle that reached the Mexican Supreme Court, we succeeded.” He attributed the success to the exceptional team in Mexico, particularly in legal and regulatory aspects, and highlighted the pivotal moment when the U.S. linked the issue to exports heading north to the United States, providing leverage in negotiations with Mexico. Lantz, specializing in opening foreign markets for U.S. agricultural commodities at Bryant Christie, mentioned that the border region was initially opened for U.S. potato shipments in 2003, with ongoing negotiations over the next 10-15 years due to opposition from a dedicated Mexican grower group using phytosanitary and legal claims.

Lantz revealed that the U.S. enlisted attorneys in Mexico to champion the cause, leading to a unanimous ruling in April 2021 by the Mexican Supreme Court in favor of expanded access for the United States, with shipments to the interior beginning in May 2022. He noted, “We now have two separate agreements that allow access to the border, and beyond.” However, he emphasized the persistent opposition from the Mexican grower group, requiring continuous efforts to ensure compliance. Despite the challenges, Lantz mentioned that the Mexican government has acknowledged the market access and ceased making undisclosed rule changes. Breshears, CMO at Potatoes USA, expressed her organization’s commitment to expanding the Mexican market and highlighted the existing framework for achieving this goal.

“We have in-country reps who have well-established relationships, so when access was granted, we had a great start,” she said. “We also work with Mexican retailers, which has expanded from wholesalers and warehouses to mainstream retailers. Our next step is to work with chefs and foodservice in Mexico.” Breshears emphasized that the smaller U.S. crop in recent years prevented market saturation, enabling a gradual increase in exports. She noted the rising exports to Mexico and underscored the importance of educating Mexican consumers about the U.S. potato varieties available.

“We are working with the retail community in Mexico to make that happen,” she said. “Along with offering information on our varieties and how to use them, we are working with influencers and developing content on recipes. We are finding that once [consumers] taste the product, they see the value that we offer.” A question from the audience inquired about the similarities and differences with avocados, which were also a disputed commodity between the U.S. and Mexico 25 years ago. Quarles noted that when full access was granted for Mexican avocado shipments to the U.S., it “actually created more demand [for avocados], and we feel it will be the same for potatoes in Mexico.”

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