On May 11, 35 members of Congress sent a letter to agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to press Japan to open its market to imports of fresh potatoes from the United States.
“Japan heavily restricts the import of fresh potatoes,” notes USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). “Currently, the United States is the only country with market access for fresh potatoes to Japan, though the use of imported U.S. potatoes is limited to potato chips,” It adds, “U.S. main potato exports to Japan are frozen processed potatoes, particularly frozen French fries.”
The Congressional request refers specifically to “U.S. fresh table stock potatoes,” contending that an opened Japanese market to these would result in an additional $150 million per year in U.S. exports. In 2022 Japanese potato imports from the U.S. were valued at over $30 million.
“Table stock access to Japan was first requested almost 30 years ago,” says the Congressional letter. “It was elevated to a top priority in U.S.-Japan plant health negotiations in September 2019. However, despite the efforts of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Japan continues to delay substantive negotiations on table stock access, including with respect to our most recent request for Japan to provide a Pest Risk Assessment (PRA).”
The letter adds, “We strongly urge you to elevate this issue with your counterparts in Japan with the goal of receiving a PRA before the upcoming bilateral negotiation this Fall 2023. We believe that a resolution is only possible with strong political support in the United States.”
“Japan already conducted a thorough review of U.S. fresh potatoes in 2006 when the market was opened for U.S. potatoes for processing,” the letter continues. “During this review, the U.S. potato industry addressed all Japanese technical concerns with comprehensive mitigations. There is no valid phytosanitary justification for the market to remain closed or for the government’s current refusal to negotiate.”