By JOHN O'CONNELL
The government of the Philippines has opened its borders to U.S. fresh table-stock potato imports.
Previously, chipping potatoes bound for processing at factories represented the country's only fresh U.S. spud imports.
According to a joint press release by U.S. Potato Board and National Potato Council, the Philippines is the fastest growing Asian economy, with 7.8 percent growth in gross domestic product during the first quarter of 2013, and demand for imported foods has increased as its population nears 100 million.
USPB International Marketing Vice President John Toaspern said imports of fresh U.S. chipping potatoes by the Philippines have grown steadily during the past five years, reaching 5,289 metric tons, valued at nearly $3 million, in 2012. The country's imports of frozen U.S. spud products totaled $38 million.
Though potatoes are prevalent in Filipino cuisine, Toaspern said it will take time to grow the market, where there's already substantial local spud production and the population isn't familiar with Russet varieties, which are popular in the U.S.
Nonetheless, he believes "the strong interest in U.S. potato products in the market bodes well for U.S. table-stock exports."
The announcement follows four years of work by the organizations to gain market access. John Keeling, NPC executive vice president and CEO, said the industry received USDA Technical Assistance for Specialty Crop funding in 2012 to host a delegation of Filipino agricultural officials, who reviewed the U.S. potato industry, and their favorable report was crucial to the process.
"The opening of this market is welcome news for the industry, and we appreciate all the hard work of our federal partners to make it happen," Keeling said in the press release.
Sarah Reece, USPB international marketing manager, said U.S. growers and shippers must now establish contacts with importers in the Philippines, and USPB has allocated funding to begin work immediately to build demand for U.S. potatoes with Filipino consumers, retailers and food service providers.