EVANSVILLE, Ind., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. potato growers can for the first time sell fresh "chipping" spuds on the Chinese market as part of the phase one trade deal between the two nations.
The decision, announced last week, could have a huge impact on the American potato industry, experts say.
"It's really exciting," said Kim Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council, based in Washington D.C. "It opens the door, potentially, for a huge market. This is basically the first time China has accepted fresh potatoes from a foreign country."
Despite its reluctance to import fresh potatoes, China is currently the No. 1 consumer of potatoes in the world, said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. The country also is among the top 10 U.S. potato export markets based solely on purchases of processed potatoes products.
"We see this as a real opportunity," Muir said.
Chipping potatoes are only a portion of the $3.7 billion American potato industry, Quarles said. These are potatoes grown especially to make potato chips and, in some cases, french fries.
These potatoes have a thinner skin than the varieties typically found in supermarkets, and they contain less sugar. This allows them to stay white and crispy when fried, said Mathew Trotman, the operations manager of Oregon's Baley-Trotman Farms.
The United States typically exports about $60 million in chipping potatoes annually, Quarles said. The National Potato Council estimates China alone could import some $20 million annually.
"The China deal could be huge," Trotman said. "The people there want potato chips and salty snacks. There's a huge opportunity with chips and french fries."
Shipments to China likely will not begin immediately, Muir said.
"Growers will have to make contracts with Chinese buyers and grow the potatoes for them first," Muir said.
Beyond chipping potato sales, the American industry hopes the new trade will open the door to the export of other types of potatoes.
Exporting fresh produce from one country to another always is difficult, Quarles said. Many countries have concerns that foreign produce will bring foreign pests, and China is no exception.
"It was a difficult step to get here," Quarles said. "Now, we're using this as an opportunity to get China comfortable with the quality and safety of our potatoes. Hopefully, this will open the door to full fresh potato exports."