Apr 11, 2024
Letter urges Biden to raise Japanese market access to prime minister

Hours after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed U.S. lawmakers at the Capitol last week, 10 senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging his assistance in kickstarting a multimillion-dollar trade issue.

The letter pinpointed Kishida’s visit as a chance to press for full access to the Japanese market for U.S. fresh potatoes, a move industry leaders estimate would result in an additional $150 million per year in exports.

The Japanese flag in the foreground of other flag
Hours after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed U.S. lawmakers at the Capitol on Thursday, 10 senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging his assistance in kickstarting the issue of fresh potato access to Japan. Photo: File

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, were joined by eight colleagues in writing the letter (.pdf), dated April 11.

“U.S. producers continue to face significant obstacles in gaining access to the market in Japan,” the letter reads. “Fresh potato (table stock) access to Japan was first requested almost 30 years ago and was elevated to a top priority in U.S.-Japan plant health negotiations in September 2019.”

The letter continues: “Despite the efforts of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries (MAFF) continues to delay substantive technical discussions on table stock access. During the most recent bilateral meetings in September 2023, MAFF again refused to provide a pest risk assessment to APHIS or any timetable for delivering one. Instead, their officials indicated that they would review individual pests over the next year. This marks the fifth year of discussions without any forward progress by MAFF to resolve this decades-long issue.”

Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council, attended the September meetings in Tokyo, advising U.S. government leaders in bilateral meetings before discussions with Japanese counterparts.

Kam Quarles

“When they came out of the room, they said, ‘Look, the steps necessary to move this process forward aren’t being taken. We’re stuck in the mud here,’ ” Quarles told Spudman earlier this week. “Japan is an ally and the U.S. has got a lot of challenges around the world, so I don’t think they’re jumping up and down to have a huge battle with Japan. But clearly Japan is not interested in moving this issue forward.”

The U.S. potato industry is worth more than $100 billion. Around 20% of U.S.-grown potatoes are exported, contributing nearly $4.8 billion to the domestic economy and supporting nearly 34,000 jobs.

In May 2023, the Mexican market opened to U.S. fresh potatoes. The country is already the top destination for U.S. potato exports, accounting for $111 million in exports in 2022-23. APHIS estimates full access will provide a market potential of $250 million per year in five years.

Japan has been able to export chipping potatoes to Japan since 2006. Doug McKalip, chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative, said at Potato Expo 2024 that he would travel to Japan in 2024 to address full-market access.

“There is no valid phytosanitary justification for these delays, as the U.S. potato industry has a strong history of exporting fresh potatoes to many markets, including South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand,” Thursday’s letter reads.

— Melinda Waldrop, managing editor

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


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