Thailand has opened its doors to U.S.-grown potatoes, but how big a market it becomes remains to be seen.


In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Thai government approved a phytosanitary protocol that paves the way for fresh U.S. spud imports.


But no potatoes will be exported until Thai importers are issued import permits, a bit of red tape that could take time to cut through, said John Toaspern, vice president of international marketing for the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board.


“I’ve kept asking since August, and so far I haven’t heard a lot” about when permits might be issued, Toaspern said. “For table stock, we’re still trying to figure out if and how permits are issued. We’re certainly hoping to have it sorted out by next fall.”


Even assuming those permits are eventually issued, Thailand will not likely bring in big fresh-market volumes from the U.S., Toaspern said.


“Given that they do have pretty robust potato production in Thailand, it’s not going to a huge market,” he said.


Thailand could, however, be a good high-end niche market for U.S. shippers, Toaspern said. Russets and colored potatoes are not grown in the country, he said.


Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, said Thailand will eventually get the commission’s attention — but not for awhile.


In Asia alone, Macau, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore are all markets the commission will focus on before getting to Thailand, Muir said.


That said, any time a new fresh market opens up is good news, he said.

“We applaud the effort and look forward to doing business there,” Muir said. “We’ll get there. There are just a lot of other priorities now ahead of it.”