Patty in the News

While so much attention these days is on Mexicans crossing the border coming north, Washington farmers are pretty upset about what's not crossing the border going south.

Potatoes, among other things.

The first issue revolves around immigration laws.

The spuds are caught up in protective tariffs.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., questioned Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Thursday about when a resolution will be found to the potato crisis, which is costing Washington growers tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.

"Soon," LaHood told her.

In an earlier meeting with the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Murray, who is chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, was told that Mexican President Felipe Calderon intends to discuss the issue with President Obama during a May 19 visit to the White House.

LaHood comes into the negotiations because the tariffs are tied to an old issue of whether some Mexican trucks will be allowed on U.S. highways.

A pilot program allowed it for a while but was halted. Teamsters Union President Jim Hoffa claims it was Teamster political action that brought accomplished that.

When it did end, Mexico imposed a 20 percent tariff on a number of American agricultural products it imports.

"The tariffs undermine our farmers' competitiveness -- and they are killing jobs and devastating communities," Murray told the secretary.

"In fact, in the two months since you last appeared before this subcommittee, the ConAgra potato processing plant in Prosser, Washington, shut down -- eliminating hundreds of good paying jobs," she said.

"And if we don't address this problem soon, this will just be the beginning -- thousands more jobs in Washington state and across the country are in serious jeopardy of being shipped outside our borders."

The Herald's Kevin McCullen reports that the year-old tariffs apply to more than 90 U.S. agricultural and industrial products, contributed to a $19.7 million decline in the value of exported Washington agricultural products to Mexico in 2009 compared with 2008 and could affect about 20,000 jobs.

The Washington Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Potato Commission say Mexico is the No. 2 international export market for Washington frozen potatoes, and the state sustained a $14 million decline in frozen potatoes exported to Mexico from April to December 2009.

And it's not just potatoes:

  • Washington pear exports to Mexico were worth $19.9 million from April to November 2008, McCullen found, then dropped to $8.79 million, according to Gov. Chris Gregoire's office.
  • Cherry exports to Mexico in 2009 were worth $3.4 million, down from $3.5 million in 2008.
  • Mixed nuts, berries and apricots also are among the Washington agricultural products exported to Mexico.

There is a lot at stake in the tariff dispute.

It may be an international issue, but it comes home to us right here in Benton and Franklin counties.

The only thing to do is sort it out and fix it.

Murray is leading that effort.

-Tri-City Herald