On the 18th of December, 2017, the South Korean government ended a 5-year ban on certain American potatoes. The Pacific Northwest states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington were excluded from the sale of table-stock potatoes after a discoloration disease was found in the produce. However, as a result of cooperation and dialogue between the US Potato industry, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Services, and the South Korean government, the restriction has been lifted, and demand has begun to revivify.
The production of potatoes is a fundamental element of the Pacific Northwest economies. Washington ranks first in the country in per-acre potato production, allowing the state to compete rigorously in global potato markets. In 2016, 250 farms in Washington were responsible for producing 10.5 billion pounds of potatoes. Similarly, Idaho produced 13.9 billion pounds on nearly double the acreage found in Washington.
Equally indispensable to these states are open markets with large sources of demand. In 2017, the top buyers of frozen processing potatoes were located on the Pacific Rim: Japan, China, and South Korea. In particular, potato trade with South Korean markets is a primary component of these states’ trade portfolios. In 2011, Oregon producers shipped more than 12,000 tons of potatoes to Korea, representing a significant component of the $1.06 billion worth of total goods exported to South Korea that year.
Since the market reopening, Korean demand has rejuvenated and redirected sales back across the Pacific. According to Potatoes USA chief marketing officer, John Toaspern: “we have received numerous requests for U.S. table-stock potatoes from importers in Korea, and are excited to finally be able to ship to this market.”
These developments in potato trade are occurring within a broader narrative of how Pacific Northwest economies have increasingly benefitted from global foreign markets, and in particular those in South Korea. For Washington and Idaho since 2005, the dollar growth of exports to South Korea increased by the 3rd highest amount, when ranked against the states’ FTA partners. Since 2005, exports from South Korea to Idaho and Washington have grown by $56.1 million and $2.681 billion, respectively. Furthermore, the market value of South Korean trade with Oregon totals over $1.5 billion, and with Washington totals at $4.287 billion.
Toby Warden is an intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and a student at the University of Sydney in Australia.