Federal agriculture officials announced Tuesday they have reached an agreement to export U.S. potatoes to China for processing. The deal, which includes crops grown in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, is expected to add about $20 million worth of exports a year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture along with the U.S. Trade Representative announced the deal Tuesday for potatoes, which has a significant regional impact because Idaho and Washington lead the nation in potato production.
“This is a big win for Washington and Idaho potato growers and job creation throughout our state,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a statement.
Cantwell said she and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, have been working on a bipartisan effort to open China as an export market for potatoes for processing, also known as chipping potatoes.
Washington state ranks second in the nation behind Idaho in potato production, but Washington ranks first in yield per acre.
In 2017, the Evergreen State’s potato harvest was valued at $772 million. The state already exports about $84 million worth of potatoes a year. The deal with China is expected to increase that figure.
Hector Castro, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said producers have shipped some frozen potatoes to China but they have been working for years to crack into the chipping-potato market.
“In Washington, the potato industry is one of our top commodities,” Castro said. “It would be a welcome development. Now let’s see what happens and if this trade agreement holds.”
The announcement followed a letter sent in February 2019 by Cantwell, Risch, and U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., that asked the Trump administration to include potatoes with its ongoing trade negotiations with China.
The $3.7 billion U.S. potato industry relies on finding an international market for one 1 of 5 potatoes produced. Since 2000, opening access to China for U.S. fresh potatoes has been a priority for domestic potato growers and included on every bilateral agenda, the letter stated.
“If access to China’s fresh potato market is granted to the United States, it is estimated that China could become a top five market for U.S. potato exports,” the lawmakers wrote.
The 2019 letter was also signed by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho: Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Reps. Rush Fulcher, R-Idaho; Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.; Denny Heck, D-Wash.; Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Derek Kilmer. D-Wash.; Rick Larsen, D-Wash.; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.
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