(March 20, 11:45 a.m.) An agreement between the U.S. potato industry and Russian Federation agriculture representatives should lead to a smoother export process and increase shipments to underused Russian ports.

Representatives of Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission, Portland-based Oregon Potato Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health and Plant Inspection Service and the Oregon Department of Agriculture met with officials from the Russian equivalent of APHIS on March 16-17 in Oregon.

The group toured a packing shed and quality assurance lab, said Matt Harris, the Washington commission’s trade director.

Harris said that while the Russian delegation did not end up supporting removal of a bureaucratic step from the export process, they did approve significant changes to that step, which should make it easier for U.S. shippers to send spuds to Russia.

Currently, when importers in Russia, Georgia or another Russian Federation country want U.S. table stock potatoes, they must apply for a permit through the Russian government, Harris said. If the request is approved, they send that document to an exporter in the U.S.

Under a proposed protocol Harris and others pitched to the visiting delegation, importers would not have to get their government’s approval in advance, Harris said.

“(A U.S. shipper) would get a call from a buyer, write the (phytosanitary documents) and the potatoes would go out the door,” he said. “It’s a systems approach in which Russia has confidence in our protocols.”

The removal of that step was not approved but they did agree to a new protocol under which Russian officials who issue permits will accept U.S. phytosanitary standards.

Under the former protocol, those officials were much more likely to reject requests for import permits because they did not recognize U.S. standards, Harris said.

“It’s an acceptance of our system,” he said. “It adds transparency to the process. We think it’s a good start.”

In addition to making the trade process more efficient, the new protocol could open up additional Russian ports to more U.S. table stock potatoes, Harris said.

Shipments to ports in Moscow and St. Petersburg, for instance, have been limited, Harris said, because importers from those cities who file their requests with the Russian government are typically rejected. Government officials in those cities, he said, are more likely to be unfamiliar with U.S. phytosanitary protocols.

Most U.S. potatoes enter Russia through the port at Vladivostok.

Harris did not know whether the new protocol would increase the volume of U.S. potatoes shipped to Russia.

In 2008, 1,678 metric tons of fresh and seed potatoes were shipped from the U.S. to the Russian Federation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.