Part of bilateral effort to ease trade barriers, Mexican potatoes will gain access to the U.S. market under a new U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal.

The Sept. 27 proposal would allow imports of Mexican potatoes if they meet certain conditions and satisfy pest and disease inspection requirements, according to the USDA.

The comment period on the proposal ends Nov. 26, and interested parties can comment on the proposal online.

The proposed rule is part of a process by U.S. and Mexican governments to expanded trade for fresh potatoes, according to Mark Szymanski, director of public relations for the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C. A 2003 agreement between the two countries promised full access for U.S. potatoes, but shipments since then have been limited to 26 kilometers (about 16 miles) from the border.

In 2011, fresh U.S. potato exports to Mexico were valued at $40 million, Szymanski said. Conservative estimates indicate that annual U.S. fresh potato exports will grow to $150 million if the 26-kilometer restriction is lifted.

“The whole goal of bilateral trade agreement is to get those restrictions eliminated eased or changed,” Szymanski said.

In September 2012, Mexico proposed expanded market access for U.S. potatoes; a follow-up proposal offering more specifics is expected soon from Mexico, Szymanski said.

“We think it is a positive step,” he said. “We know this is going to benefit consumers and potatoes growers on both sides of the border.”

Szymanski said Mexican potatoes are mostly a seasonal crop in Mexico. The U.S. was fourth in world potato production in 2011, according to United Nations Food and Agriculture statistics; Mexico did not rank in the top 20 in potato output.