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April 23, 2018

Maine Potato Board monitoring U.S.-China trade disputes

Photo / Mainebiz archives
Photo / Mainebiz archives
The Maine Potato Board is keeping a close watch on trade disputes between the United States and China, which is one of the top five export markets for U.S. potato products.

The Maine Potato Board is keeping a close watch on trade disputes between the United States and China, which is one of the top five export markets for U.S. potato products.

The County reported the board is concerned about the possibility of potatoes becoming subject to tariffs if the trade dispute between China and the U.S. extends beyond China's announced plans to impose a 25% tariff on $50 billion of U.S. goods that include soybeans, aircraft and automobiles. China as said implementation of its tariffs on 106 products under 14 categories would be contingent on U.S. actions and whether it imposes tariffs threatened by President Donald Trump on Chinese products.

Maine Potato Board Executive Director Don Flannery told The County that although potatoes haven't been mentioned as a possible target of Chinese tariffs, "our product could be on the list at any time."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service field office in New England reported that Maine potato farmers harvested 48,500 acres in 2017, with sales exceeding $162.3 million.

"China does import a number of potatoes because they are an alternative to rice," Don Flannery, executive director of the potato board, told the newspaper.

For the July 2016 through June 2017 marketing year, exports of all U.S. potatoes and potato products reached a record $1.76 billion and a record volume level of 1.7 million metric tons, which is approximately 20% of U.S. potato production for the marketing year, according to the U.S. Potato Board.

Japan was the largest export market during that period, with Canada a close second. Mexico was third, followed by Korea and China.

"With worldwide trade in potatoes and potato products averaging 8% annual growth, there remains significant opportunities for U.S. exports to continue to grow," according to a USPB news release. "Future growth challenges include the strong U.S. dollar, increasing competition from the European Union and the lack of new trade deals for U.S. products. However, prospects still look good for U.S. exports as the dollar has weakened over the past six-months and U.S. processors are expanding capacity while ongoing efforts could increase access for U.S. fresh potatoes to a number of markets."

In March, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, expressed concern about a possible trade war over President Donald Trump's plan to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, citing two Maine companies telling him they are worried it will increase their costs.

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