Outside of rebounding from the pandemic, what are the biggest issues facing the Northwest potato industry?
Chris Voigt, executive Director of the Washington state Potato Commission said issues at the west coast ports is the most pressing concern right. He said potato exports when the pandemic started to ratchet-up, six to seven months, dropped 20% year over year. But now that numbers have rebounded where potato exports are off 7% from where they should be. However, Voigt noted those export number should be better, but maritime operators have decided to leave a lot of U.S. business on the dock.
“They’ve figured out their model where they can maximize the most money they can make, is brining stuff from Asia, unloading it as quickly as possible and just loading up their ships with empty containers and bringing them back to Asia to reload and bring back to the U.S. They don’t want to take the time to load U.S. agricultural products in their containers and get them on the boats. So, that is actually really put a crimp into our exports in the last several months.”
The port issues is an immediate problem, on the long-term side, Voigt says he’s concerned about trade agreements. He added over the next five months, the U.S. needs to return to many negotiating tables.
“The European Union, the EU, has essentially signed free-trade agreements with every country that we do business with. And so, if we keep falling behind and we don’t sign these trade agreements the European Union, who’s our biggest competitor for potato and potato products is just going to dominate markets that we’ve traditionally have had a stronghold in.”
Voigt noted those EU free trade agreements make American products 10%-20% more expensive in many of the most desirable markets.
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