Patty in the News

The Obama administration would have until Oct. 1 to create a plan to end tariffs by Mexico on Washington agricultural products, including frozen potatoes, under language included by Sen. Patty Murray in a transportation bill.

Murray's office said Monday that the Washington state Democrat had included language setting the deadline for a resolution of the tariff dispute in the fiscal 2011 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

"I am extremely frustrated that the administration has not yet acted while farmers across my home state of Washington continue to suffer under Mexico's retaliatory tariffs," Murray said in a statement. "I am urging both the Obama administration and the Mexican government to solve this issue and allow Washington state farmers to compete on a level playing field."

Murray and other members of Washington's congressional delegation have pressed the administration to reach a resolution with Mexico's government to allow cross-border access of Mexican trucks to the U.S. and end retaliatory tariffs on more than 90 U.S. products.

Mexico imposed the 20 percent tariff on agricultural and other products in April 2009 after the end of a pilot program that allowed a limited number of Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways.

The tariffs have hit potato farmers particularly hard because Mexico is the No. 2 international export market for Washington frozen potatoes.

Washington sustained an estimated $14 million decline in frozen potatoes exported to Mexico from April to December 2009, the Washington State Potato Commission reported. About 20,000 jobs are supported by the state's potato industry.

The U.S. potato industry, said the commission, has lost at least $31 million worth of export business because of the tariffs.

"It's refreshing to see this and its helpful language because it will hold the administration's feet to the fire if the bill passes," said Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington State Potato Commission.

Language included in the bill would direct Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the U.S. Trade representative no later than Oct. 1 to "establish and report on a proposal to implement a cross-border trucking program that maintains the safety of our roads and highways, enhances the efficient movement of commerce, and eliminates harmful and retaliatory tariffs on agricultural products."

-Tri-City Herald