As domestic potato consumption slows but production continues to grow, finding lucrative export markets for Canada’s fresh, frozen and seed potatoes is a vital and increasing priority. The vast majority of Canada’s potato exports – approximately 91 per cent of our fresh potato exports and 84 per cent of our seed potato exports in 2015/2016 – travel south to U.S. customers. To date, bilateral trade agreements are keeping this trade route smooth. However, current NAFTA talks are an important reminder that we need to constantly up our export game. In addition to reviewing and refining standards, protocols and paperwork to promote continued export ease to the U.S., the Canadian potato industry needs to actively build offshore markets.
Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Indonesia and Guatemala, Canada’s largest fresh potato export markets outside of the U.S., together purchased just over eight per cent of our total table potato exports in 2015/2016. In the same year, Uruguay, Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic together purchased 12 per cent of our total seed potato exports. There is room to grow in all of these key existing markets, as Canadian product enjoys a strong reputation for consistent quality.
P.E.I. and New Brunswick have been permitted to ship seed and chip stock to Thailand since 2009. In the fall of 2016, Alberta gained an important victory when Thailand similarly approved that province’s seed program and quality standards.
Canadian producers hope to soon enjoy opportunities in the Mexican marketplace. Exporting to Mexico can be cost effective if shippers can catch backhauls, and is convenient because movement of product can happen via truck rather than boat. However, potato exports to Mexico have been stalled for the past four years due to that country instituting significant market barriers, including unreasonably costly and onerous testing protocol. In the first days of 2018, Canada sent potatoes to Mexico in hopes that both governments would be willing to work cooperatively to end the stall. Whether or not those potatoes begin productive trade remains to be seen. Additional negotiation will have to occur to bring down the still over-high cost of export protocol.
Successful seed potato export relationships depend on understanding a foreign market’s consumption priorities and learning how to best meet a foreign grower’s needs, concerns and agronomic conditions. Top of the list, regardless of destination, is quality. Only excellent condition tubers can withstand a long journey and resist the soil-borne organisms common in many potato fields, especially those in the tropics. Whereas a tuber with minimal harvest, storage or shipping damage might be perfectly acceptable to plant here at home, such damage can spell disaster in other climates.
We applaud the important work done by the Canadian Government and by the Canadian potato industry to grow existing markets and break into new opportunities. We are highly committed to being part of showcasing Canadian potatoes worldwide!