Sep 5, 2018
Midwest growers: Trade commission needs to look at Canadian trade rules

The latest numbers show that potato imports to the U.S. continue to rise. That’s according to numbers from Trade Stats Northwest, and the largest source of fresh imports continues to be Canada.

Growers in the Red River Valley argue that continued growth may be the result of unfair trade practices put in place by the Canadian government, and they want U.S. lawmakers to begin thinking about a response.

“We’re looking for fair and equitable trade. We’re pro-trade but we want it to be fair for all parties,” said Northern Plains Potato Growers Association President Donavon Johnson.

One of those policies is called a “ministerial exception.” Canadian buyers cannot purchase U.S. potatoes until all Canadian fresh potato inventory is exhausted. Johnson said they asked for a similar policy to possibly be put in place in the U.S.

“That’s a big ask but we might as well start with the big picture,” he said.

Fresh grower/shippers TJ Hall and Chris Bjorneby joined Johnson on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to what they call “the seemingly growing and unimpeded imports of fresh potatoes from Canada into the U.S. and its negative effect on growers, washplants and shippers.”

“Red River Valley potato growers have a strong case to be made that Canada has unfairly limited their profits and narrowed their fair market access,” said North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in a release after the trip.

Johnson said the NPPGA’s initial research indicates that Canada growers and shippers, with the help of their government, are increasing fresh potato production for the purpose of increasing exports. Further, he said, the U.S. market is by far the largest recipient of those exports.

He said the group’s D.C. meetings illuminated the fact that every lawmaker that they met with was not aware of this issue and certainly not the scope of it.

“We feel there is a wide-open border, without restriction for Canada to sell potatoes into the U.S. and I’ll even go further than that, I’ll say dump potatoes into the U.S.” Johnson said.

Aside from raising awareness, the trip was intended to help find possible solutions or options to limit the increasing flow of Canadian fresh potatoes into the U.S.

One of the positive developments that came out of the meeting, was that Heitkamp and fellow North Dakota Senator John Hoeven would  work with the Senate Finance Committee to drafted a letter to the International Trade Commission to conduct a study on Canadian trade policies to discover their effects on the U.S. fresh potato market. Gathering that data would be a first step before taking action.

“We believe that will happen and if it does happen, it’s a huge step in the right direction,” he said.

– Scott Stuntz, managing editor






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