By DAN WHEAT
The United States continued to push for fresh potato access into China during annual bilateral talks in Hawaii last week, but there's no indication of any breakthrough.
"We've been in a 10-year negotiation and it could go on for another 10 years. But the important aspect is that's it's still being brought to the table and discussed. That's positive in itself," said Matt Harris, director of trade of the Washington State Potato Commission in Moses Lake, Wash.
It's a long process involving China evaluating pest concerns about fresh U.S. potatoes and the U.S. responding to those concerns, Harris said.
The United States has shipped value-added frozen potato goods including french fries and hash browns into China for a number of years, but has yet to gain access for fresh potatoes.
China produces a white potato but lacks diversity in fresh potato varieties, he said. With China's growing middle and upper class makes its high-end restaurants potential markets for quality U.S. russets, reds, purples and fingerlings.
"There is demand there," he said. "We can fit into that consumer palate that's growing."
There's also opportunity for U.S. fresh potatoes to feed China's potato chip production, he said.
Harris foresees volume starting small, perhaps at 2,200 metric tons, but growing as relationships and markets are built.
Idaho, Washington and Oregon produce about half of the potatoes grown in the U.S. and much of the frozen potato exports already come from those three states, Harris said.
China imported about 50,000 metric tons of frozen potato products in the first three quarters of 2010 with a little more than 40,000 metric tons of that coming from the U.S., Harris said. The rest came from Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, he said. China produces an unknown quantity of its own frozen potato products, he said.