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U.S. waits for positive response from Mexico on ag trade

The U.S. and its growers are in a holding pattern, waiting for Mexico to respond favorably to a proposal to restore ag trade between the two countries.

Last week, the Obama administration announced a plan that would allow Mexican long-haul carriers into the country after a safety inspection.

In return, the U.S. is hopeful Mexico will lift the 25 percent tariff it has put on U.S. produce, including apples, cherries and pears.

So far, the Mexican government has responded by holding the line on the 99 items currently under the tariff. It has indicated, though, that it will not add any more products to the tariff.

That's not enough, says Sen. Patty Murray, the only member of the state's congressional delegation to comment on recent developments in the stand-off.

"This response by the Mexican government is inadequate and deeply unfair to Washington state farmers," she says. "The United States put a proposal on the table, and Mexico should have responded by ending all punitive tariffs immediately."

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is taking a calmer approach, noting trade negotiations with Mexico are a work in progress.

In comments earlier this week to the American Farm Bureau, Vilsack remarked, "Just last month, I was in Mexico speaking to my counterpart, Secretary Mayorga, about the importance of putting down the barriers on beef and potatoes that have been existing in Mexico for far too long, and I was certainly appreciative of the opportunity to reach out to him this month...to convey my hope that a framework for resolving our trucking issues with Mexico will lead to a reduction and ultimate elimination of the tariffs that have been assessed against our agricultural products."

Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside is the state's ag director, and he says the Obama proposal is just one step in an ongoing negotiation with the Mexican government.

Like Vilsack, he is taking a more reasoned approach than Murray.

"There was hope that would happen (lifting the tariffs), but not a great deal of expectation," Newhouse said. "The concept paper put forward (by the Obama administration) is just that, it outlines the path forward but there are still a lot of decisions that have to happen between us and the Mexican government."

Newhouse, who is also a farmer, says the bottom line is that it's not surprising Mexico refused give up the tariffs, at least right away.

"If so, they would have given up whatever perceived leverage they have. As we move further down the road and make more progress, I'm hopeful they'll start lifting them.

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