Washington and Oregon-grown potatoes are on display at a Vietnamese grocery store during a joint trade mission undertaken by both states' potato commissions this year. Image: Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Serving Up Spuds: Washington and Oregon Team Up to Promote Potatoes in Southeast Asia

ASEAN The Mekong

November 4th marked the end of a trade mission undertaken by representatives from Washington and Oregon’s potato commissions to the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar. This visit marked the third time in recent years that Washington and Oregon delegations participated in joint trade missions to Asia. During the first joint visit in 2009, the delegations traveled to the Philippines, and in 2011 they traveled to Vietnam.

The most recent visit, which included stops in both countries they had previously visited, highlights the importance placed on those markets for Washington and Oregon exports. From July 2013 to June 2014, Oregon exported 7,780 metric tons of fresh potatoes to the Philippines, rushing to fill the demand after the Philippines lifted restrictions on fresh potato imports last year. The market for potatoes in Vietnam has also been growing steadily, with Oregon exporting 350 metric tons last year.

Washington’s trade with the Philippines and Vietnam isn’t small potatoes either. The potato industry supports roughly 23,000 jobs in the state and brings in a profit of $4.6 billion annually. Washington’s processed potatoes are its second-largest export to the Philippines, with sales totaling $42.9 million last year. Like Oregon, Washington also benefitted from the Philippines’ eased trade restrictions that allowed fresh potato imports, selling $335,000 worth to the Philippines last year. Exports to Vietnam also did quite well, with total potato sales equaling $3.49 million in 2013.

Myanmar presented a unique challenge to the delegations, since it only opened up to US trade last May, making it a largely unexplored and untapped market. While Washington shipped $6.4 million worth of agricultural products to Myanmar last year, none of those products were potatoes. There is optimism, however, that by studying the local demand for potatoes in Myanmar there will be plenty of means by which the Washington and Oregon potato industries can profit in the future.