The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is impacting U.S. potato exports, as seen in the figures for March. U.S. exports of frozen potato products were off 12% in March 2020 compared to 2019. Exports of dehydrated potatoes were off 16%, and fresh were off 13% from the previous year.
However, due to a strong first eight months of the July 2019 – June 2020 marketing year, the July 2019 – March 2020 figures are still positive. Frozen exports at 803,162 metric tons are up 8%; dehydrated exports at 134,814 MT are up 4%, while fresh exports for direct consumption as well as processing, are up 5% to 377,408 MT.
The growth in year-to-date frozen exports was led by a 26% increase to the second-largest market, Mexico. Much of this growth has to do with the removal of the 20% retaliatory tariff imposed in 2018 and removed in June 2019. The continued growth of 2% in exports to Japan, the largest market, is very important to the overall figures. There has also been very strong growth to the Philippines at 22%, Thailand at 20%, and Central America at 8%. The ratification of the EU – Vietnam free trade agreement, which exempts the EU from the 13% tariff applied to the U.S. product, has switched that market from one of positive growth for the U.S. through December to a decline of 8% through March. All markets in Asia, with the exceptions of Thailand and Indonesia, were down 10% or more for March.
U.S. exports of dehydrated potatoes for the July 2019 – March 2020 period were bolstered by gains to Mexico, Canada, Europe, and the United Arab Emirates. Exports are down to most markets in Asia, except the Philippines and Indonesia, with significant declines in March.
Fresh potato exports to Mexico and Canada are very different from exports to Mexico down 7% year to date but up 10% in March. The opposite is true with Canada, where exports are still up 17% year to date despite a 29% decline in March. It is expected that exports to Canada will continue to decline as the excess of potatoes there for processing into fries will prevent any imports from the U.S. The only caveat is a possible influx for chipping potatoes to make up for shortfalls in that sector. Fresh exports to Asia are off 2% for the marketing year but were down 15% in March.