(Aug. 13) Potato officials from Idaho, Colorado, and Washington have recently ramped up efforts to export to Mexico beyond the current 26-kilometer (16 mile) restriction.

“We had an agreement signed four years ago, they would grant access up to 26 kilometers, after the time passed they would grant full access, and they have not moved further according to their commitment,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C. “We think they need to honor the agreements made.”

In early July, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire visited Mexico on a trade mission to promote the state’s potatoes.

“We expect positive results from that trade mission. It was good to sit down face to face, and talk about how can we can develop further access,” said Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington State Potato Commission, Moses Lake.

In Idaho, sampling tests have been made on a 1,000-acre area to convince Mexican government officials that any sign of the cyst nematode, discovered in spring 2006, has been eradicated.

“We invited Mexican officials to look over our shoulder and the officials were very comfortable that no product had any cyst,” said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle. “We want to make sure that the product out of Idaho be tested and fields have been inspected.”

Another state that has been actively promoting trade missions is Colorado.

“We have had buyers from Mexico come up and look at our potatoes,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista.

On Sept. 10-12, Mexican retailers will be in Colorado to meet with potato officials, Ehrlich said.

“We live in a world where trade is going to take place,” Keeling said. “Over time it has to happen, and we will continue to work to make it a win-win game.”

In the past, CONPAPA, the Mexican potato grower organization, objected to allowing U.S. potatoes throughout Mexico, saying that could jeopardize potato crops there. CONPAPA president Hugo Gómez Arroyo declined to comment.

A 2003 agreement between the two nations allowed U.S. potatoes into the 26-kilometers zone the first year. In the second year, U.S. exporters were to have access to the five Mexican states bordering the U.S., and by the third year, U.S. potatoes were to access to all Mexican states.

That plan has been delayed because Mexican officials expressed concerns about pests.

Javier Trujillo Arriaga, general director for Mexico’s equivalent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said that that no potatoes are grown in the 26-kilometer zone.

“This was established due to the large quantities of (pests) that affect potatoes and could enter Mexico’s agricultural fields and cause severe damage to the Mexican potato production, as well as other produce, such as tomatoes and hot peppers," said Trujillo, head of the vegetable sanitary and quality department (SENASICA) in Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture, SAGARPA.

Trujillo said more than 350 U.S. potato shipments to the country in the past four years were found to have pests or diseases.

“If these would have been transported into Mexico’s fields there would have been great damages to the agriculture industry,” Trujillo said.