No News on Reopening U.S. Border to P.E.I. Potatoes

Published online: Mar 11, 2022 Articles Nancy Russell
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Source: CBC News

There's no word on any change in the status of P.E.I. potato exports and the reopening of the U.S. border.

Canada's agriculture minister had said March 10 might be the day she would hear from her counterpart in the United States. Marie-Claude Bibeau met with the U.S. secretary of agriculture six weeks ago in Washington. At the time, Tom Vilsack told her it would take five to six weeks for American scientists to finish their risk assessment on shipping fresh P.E.I. potatoes into the United States.

The P.E.I. Potato Board, and many in the industry, had been standing by, hoping for an announcement that exports would be allowed to resume. Instead, there was only a statement from Bibeau's office to CBC News:

"We recognize that the situation of restoring market access for P.E.I. table stock potatoes to the continental U.S. is extremely difficult for P.E.I. potato growers who must make decisions regarding the upcoming season. We continue to engage with APHIS and USDA  to advocate for the resumption of exports for P.E.I. table stock potatoes as soon as possible," the statement said.

"With the risk mitigation measures already in place, we firmly believe that table stock and processing potatoes can be traded safely, and this is why they can be sold all across Canada. We are confident that our American partner will come to the same conclusion soon."

Lack of Response 'Crushing'

The P.E.I. Potato Board also issued a statement. The board said farmers had been "anxiously awaiting the decision today" and that the lack of response was "crushing to farmers who need to decide what to do with the potatoes they have in storage, what and how much to plant in 2022, or even if they should plant in 2022."

"Buyers in the U.S. want our potatoes, CFIA says there is negligible risk from shipping washed, sprout nipped potatoes, and we don't know when the minister will hear from U.S., or what the Canadian government will take as next steps. The minister's strategy 16 weeks ago was for Canada to take matters into its own hands and close the border in order to have time to negotiate with the U.S. threat to close the border," the statement said.

"If the U.S. doesn't agree to open the mainland to P.E.I. potatoes within a few days, we will know that Minister Bibeau's strategy failed, and it will be time to take a different approach. If negotiating in good faith with the U.S. doesn't work, we must acknowledge that the U.S. is engaged in a trade war with Canada, and Canada must respond in kind.

"We are in sudden-death overtime on this issue; the clock has run out."   

Still Waiting

 Last week, Island farmers completed a potato disposal program, destroying an estimated 136 million kilograms (about 3 million hundredweight) of surplus potatoes.

The response from Washington is a critical next step to get potatoes flowing south of the border into the mainland United States. 

If the Americans give the green light, that in turn, would allow the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to lift the export restrictions it put in place last fall, a pre-emptive move officials said, after the discovery of potato wart in two Island fields. 

At the same meeting in Washington in January, the U.S. agriculture secretary said there would be a decision within two weeks on resuming exports to Puerto Rico.  That announcement was made on Feb. 8, within the two-week window, and those shipments have resumed. 

Earlier this week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported a third detection of potato wart, found in soil samples taken last fall. CFIA said this latest finding was not unexpected, as it is not uncommon to detect potato wart in associated fields during an investigation.

The export ban has been in place since Nov. 21.