Obama proposal renews hope for ag trade with Mexico

The new year may bring good news to Lower Valley growers, as the Obama administration is moving to have tariffs lifted in Mexico against U.S. produce.

Mexico increased its tariff or duty by 25 percent on nearly 100 U.S. products - including apples, cherries and pears - since March 2009. The move was in retaliation to a U.S. crack down on long-haul trucks entering the U.S. from Mexico.

The frosty relations may be thawing, though, with the administration's proposal to phase in cross border long haul trucks from Mexico to the U.S.

And that would be good news for growers in the Lower Valley and around Washington state.

"I'm encouraged about the U.S. proposal that could lead to an end to the harmful tariffs against Washington's apple, pear, potato and other food exports to Mexico," said the state's ag director, Dan Newhouse.

Newhouse is also a Sunnyside-area farmer, and he said the hopeful trend still needs to come with safeguards for U.S. motorists.

"While we must be assured of the safety of all trucks on our highways, our state's growers have been caught up in a dispute not of their own making. "

Newhouse estimates the state's exports to Mexico have declined by at least $40 million since the tariffs were installed.

"I hope the U.S. proposal will jumpstart the discussion that has languished for far too long, and applaud the work of our congressional delegation for their efforts," he said. "The sooner we can find a resolution to this issue, the sooner our growers can begin to rebuild their export relationships with their customers south of the border."

One member of that congressional delegation is Congressman Doc Hastings, and he, too, is hopeful for a re-start in trade relations with Mexico.

"While I must still review the proposal, the fact that a framework finally exists and negotiations with Mexico are underway is promising," says Hastings, a Republican who represents a district that includes the Lower Valley. "I will continue to work with the administration and local growers to ensure that a solution is finalized and implemented as quickly as possible to avoid additional harm to Central Washington's economy."

The Obama proposal would apply to Mexican long-haul carriers except those transporting passengers or hazardous materials.

The proposal would also require a safety audit of Mexican trucks ranging from vehicle inspection to driving records.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington thinks it's a good proposal for the Mexican government to consider.

"I am glad the administration is moving forward with a plan to finally end the devastating Mexican tariffs on Washington state agricultural products," said Murray. "I have been working closely with farmers and growers across Washington state to fight against these unfair tariffs that are killing jobs and hurting the local agricultural industry."

Also weighing in for the affirmative was Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.

"I appreciate the transportation department taking this important step towards solving a serious problem for Washington state agriculture," she said. "The current tariffs are harming our potato, apple and pear producers, and we are depending on the administration to work quickly and forcefully to convince Mexico to remove the barriers it is imposing on our agricultural exports."


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