A farmer sorts potatoes during the harvest season in Declo, Idaho. In 2022, U.S. producers exported $303 million, or 549,533 metric tons of potatoes abroad. (Kirsten Strough / USDA)
Idaho officials are taking steps to get fresh potatoes to Japan.
Between June 5 and 8, representatives from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and the Idaho Potato Commission traveled to Japan on a trade mission to promote market access for fresh U.S. potatoes, according to an ISDA press release.
Traveling alongside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Idaho delegation joined 11 state departments of agriculture, 40 agribusinesses and several farm organizations for the trade mission.
Japan is Idaho’s fifth-largest trading partner, and it is the fourth-largest market for U.S. food and agricultural products. While Japan imports frozen U.S. potatoes for chipping purposes, a ban on fresh U.S. potatoes prevents Idaho farmers from sending their potatoes to Japan.
Sam Eaton, the vice president of legal affairs at the Idaho Potato Commission, previously told the Idaho Capital Sun that the fresh potato trade ban is a “politically sensitive issue,” noting that the Japanese government’s ban is to protect local farmers and ensure imports are free of pests or diseases.
“Japan has agreed for a number of years to conduct a ‘pest risk assessment’ to determine what their concerns are, but we believe that this has largely been used as a delay tactic to protect their primary concern,” he previously said.
In 2022, potato exports from the U.S. reached a record $2.1 billion in sales. That number would include an additional $150 million if Japan were to open its market to fresh U.S. potatoes, according to the National Potato Council.
Idaho ag officials call trade mission productive
Representing the Idaho Potato Commission, Eaton was a part of the Idaho delegation that traveled to Japan. In the press release, he said it is important for U.S. trade officials to continue pressuring Japanese officials to accept fresh potatoes.
In 2022, Mexico lifted a 25-year ban that prevented U.S. farmers from exporting fresh potatoes to the country, and Eaton said he hopes Japan will do the same.
“We also have broad support from our partners at the National Potato Council and Potatoes USA as well as the entire Idaho Congressional Delegation,” Eaton said in the press release. “We are fresh off our recent success in Mexico and the potato industry needs to carry that momentum into our efforts with Japan.”
Idaho Potato Commission chairman Bryan Wada also attended the multi-day event. In the press release, he said the trip was “very productive” and a step in the right direction to open the Japanese market to fresh U.S. potatoes.
“With our high-quality product and international brand recognition, I believe Idaho potatoes are positioned to do particularly well in the Japanese market,” Wada said.
ISDA director Chanel Tewalt attended the multi-day event and personally met with Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to discuss the status of market access negotiations for U.S. commodities.
In the press release, Tewalt said she was pleased with the outcome of the trade mission.
“I am very encouraged by the discussions we had in Japan, and especially pleased to have been able to leverage the scale and depth of this mission to advocate for Idaho’s producers,” Tewalt said in a press release. “Japan has long been one of Idaho’s strongest trading partners. Throughout our trip, we heard a common message: Japan is a mature market, but it is full of opportunity.”
While in Japan, the Idaho delegation met with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service officials to further discuss the status of providing the scientific and technical information Japan needs to evaluate the country’s market access request.
The Idaho delegation also facilitated discussion with top potato processors in Japan including Simplot, McCain Foods and Lamb Weston.
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