Potato Board works toward trade in Southeast Asia
By John O’Connell
The U.S. potato industry has begun working to establish trade with the Southeast Asian markets of Cambodia and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
In late August, the U.S. Potato Board’s contracted representative in Thailand, Kraipob Pangsapa, manned a booth at the U.S. Food & Beverage Agent Show in Yangon, Myanmar, bringing the country’s developing food industry its first samples of American frozen and dehydrated potato products.
USPB is conducting a market study, which should be finished by January, to assess the potential for exporting frozen and dehydrated spud products to the countries. John Toaspern, USPB’s vice president of international marketing, said the organization secured USDA Market Development Program funds to conduct the market research, which should cost $25,000 to $30,000 to complete. USPB will contribute $5,000 in grower dollars as matching funds.
Toaspern said initially trade opportunities will be limited due to the lack of refrigeration infrastructure and the infancy of the fast food business in the countries. He believes the first sales would go to hotels catering to western guests.
He said the Cambodian market is further along in its trade potential, and Myanmar only opened to trade recently, after the country’s military leaders agreed to changes in order to have economic sanctions lifted.
“It’s only been a year to a year and half that you could even travel (to Myanmar) for commercial reasons from the U.S.,” Toaspern said.
Toaspern said USPB will send staff to Cambodia and Myanmar in November to conduct the market research, and to attend additional food events.
“Based on the results of that research, we will develop a strategy for a market development program we can present to our International Marketing Committee,” Toaspern said.
Though Myanmar isn’t accustomed to dehydrated and frozen potatoes, Toaspern noted the country, a former British colony, grows some spuds.
Pangsapa said in a press release he sees potential for a strong market in Myanmar.
“I was really impressed with the interest shown in U.S. potato products by all aspects of the trade in Myanmar,” he said.
Toaspern anticipates growth in imports and exports will lead to further development of refrigeration infrastructure in the countries.