COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — After more than 10 years of working on getting full access for U.S. potatoes to Mexico, it appears an agreement is in the near future.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been before,” Randy Hardy, National Potato Council president, told attendees of the U.S. Potato Board’s annual meeting on March 13. “We’re simply waiting on the Mexican draft agreement … It could happen anytime, it could be a few months, but we are growing ever closer and that market has potential.”

John Toaspern, USPB vice president of international marketing, has been working with potato council chief executive officer John Keeling on the issue for years. Keeling was ill and unable to attend the meeting.

“It does appear we’re going to have a solution in the near future, and that will create the opportunity for us to access 100 million consumers in Mexico and that can be significant,” Toaspern said.

The agreement will help even those U.S. shippers that don’t export, he said, because it will take some competition off the U.S. market as potatoes are diverted to Mexico.

Until recently, Mexican agriculture officials balked at allowing U.S. potatoes past an established 16-mile border zone, citing concerns over six pests they claimed presented a threat from the U.S. In late 2012, Mexican authorities had published an agreement on the issue but surprised U.S. officials by naming 80 pests as threats from the U.S.

Since then, an impartial three-person trade panel studied the science involved in the trade dispute, Hardy said, and Mexico withdrew its objection.

“That’s been withdrawn by the Mexicans, so it’s off the table. That was the biggest hurdle we fought in the past several years,” Hardy said.

A key issue, he said, is agreeing to allow Mexico to exports its potatoes to the U.S.

“They were concerned they were not going to be allowed to get Mexican potatoes into the U.S.,” Hardy said. “That will be allowed to happen.”

If and when the border opens for full access, U.S. exporters must show restraint, or else the border could be shut again.

“The one thing we don’t want to do is have everybody rush to the border and flood the market, creating a crash in price,” he said. “That gives them the ability, the authority to throw us back out.”