Sep 27, 2023
Fresh potato access to Japan topic of bilateral plant health meetings

In advance of this week’s bilateral plant health meetings in Japan, National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles re-emphasized the importance of opening the Japanese market to exports of U.S. fresh potatoes.

Full market access was expected to be a focus of the meetings from Sept. 25-29 featuring representatives from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Quarles and Bryant Christie Inc.’s Matt Lantz are serving as technical experts during the meetings.

“This has been a very long-standing goal of the United States,” Quarles said in a conference call with reporters on Sept. 19. “This market access request goes back over 20 years, and then we’ve really leaned into it in the last four years. It has been stalled largely due to domestic political concerns within Japan.”

NPC CEO Kam Quarles

At stake is an estimated $150 million in additional trade, a “mirror image” of the value of the Mexican market which fully opened in May, Quarles said.

The U.S. has been able to export fresh potatoes for processing to Japan since 2006, but restrictions remain on fresh potato imports including table stock. Table stock access was first requested almost 30 years ago and elevated to a top priority during U.S.-Japan plant health negotiations in 2019.

A sticking point in the decades-long discussions is a phytosanitary one: the ironing out of a pest risk assessment.

“What we were hoping to have at the time of this bilateral (meeting) is a pest risk assessment from Japan that details the issues that they need to sort out in order to grant our market access,” Quarles said. “Our optimism was not rewarded. Japan has not provided that pest risk assessment.”

Instead, the U.S. received a “voluminous” update to a list of pests settled on several years ago, Quarles said, containing “a number of potato pests that had never been seen in the United States. It looked more like a Google word search than a list of anything between the two countries.”

APHIS swiftly responded, discounting the “vast majority of those issues,” Quarles said. Japan responded with yet another list.

“The clear indication there, without getting into the details, is the desire to keep dragging this out, to keep slow-walking it on the Japanese side,” Quarles said.

Japan is the second-largest export market for U.S. potatoes, trailing only Mexico.

In the most recent fiscal year, Quarles said the U.S. moved almost 350,000 metric tons of both processed potatoes and chipping stock (fresh potatoes that must be immediately processed into potato chips) into Japan, with a value of $450 million.

“Those continued volumes speak to the security of the U.S. processes, both domestically and with our export protocols,” Quarles said.

A fully opened market would also benefit the Japanese consumer, Quarles said.

“The domestic industry doesn’t have the ability to serve the demand from their population, and having access to another stream of high-quality potatoes is going to be very good for those consumers and may very well be good for that domestic industry,” he said. “If you can put more potatoes on menus and in supermarkets and those type of places, it could very well lift all of the potato demand upward in Japan.”

Opening the Japanese market to fresh exports was also discussed during USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor’s agribusiness trade mission to Japan in June. Taylor sounded an optimistic note after that trip.

“I had very positive discussions with our partners in the Japanese government this week, and we’re going to continue to engage and make progress on this issue,” she said on June 8. “It has long been a priority of the U.S. potato industry and the U.S. government to continue to prioritize and expand our market access there.”

The first step in achieving that goal is receiving a workable risk pest assessment, Quarles said. It will take time to deal with “legitimate issues” from that document, he said.

“We’re probably looking at a year-long process after that draft risk pest assessment is provided to USDA,” Quarles said. “We do not want to have this become an endless negotiation that really has no off-ramp.”

— Melinda Waldrop, Managing Editor

75 Applewood Dr. Ste. A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345


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