More Colorado potatoes headed to Mexico?

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Heading south?
Approximately 2,200 semi-trucks full of Colorado potatoes head to Mexico each year. But an effort to open Mexico's markets could mean a tenfold increase in potato exports from this state, according to John Salazar, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture.

Mexico is Colorado's second-largest export market for agricultural goods, with 39 percent of the state's exports -- that's worth $232 million. It's also Colorado's second largest overall export market, behind South Korea. The increased exportation would mean more money -- via higher market prices -- for Colorado farmers. But will it make potatoes more expensive at local markets? "Not really," Salazar says, citing how little of the grocery-store price for produce actually goes to farmers.

Nor will the recent study that suggests potatoes cause weight gain put a damper on sales. "This is a myth," Salazar says. "A potato is fat-free. It's what you put on it that makes it fattening."

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The American and Mexican governments are currently in talks to expand the market for Colorado spuds into Mexico, Governor John Hickenlooper, USDA Undersecretary Edward Avalos, Salazar and a group of major Mexican food retailers and importers announced at a gathering today. Currently, the potatoes can only be exported to an area within 26 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. The area, known as the "border zone," is governed by free-trade laws that have stood "as long as I can think of," says Salazar.

Other U.S.-Mexican regulations are also more lax in this area; for example, U.S. citizens don't need a visa to go into this zone, unlike the rest of Mexico.

While the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to open borders for all goods between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, that did not occur. "People try to protect their own markets," Salazar says. "It becomes almost a political issue."

Through mediation, American growers hope to gain access to all of Mexico's markets, not just within the border zone, for agricultural products. And Mexico hopes its trucks will be able to drive within America; currently, this country's roads are closed to trucks coming from Mexico.

The final decision should be made in August.

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