The New Zealand potato industry is celebrating winning access to the South Korean market following 16 years of negotiations between the two countries.

It is believed the market could be worth as much as NZ$10m a year to the industry, with exports likely to begin next season.

“We’re very excited about it. It’s been a 16-year-long project with a positive conclusion, and it is another string to the bow of New Zealand growers,” Potatoes New Zealand chair Terry Olsen told Fruitnet.com.

“South Korea is one of our biggest export targets, so it’s hugely exciting for commercial potato growers to now have access,” he added.

“Every year we receive enquiries from South Korean commercial chippers wanting to import our potatoes. Until now, we’ve wanted to export our product but had not had access.”

New Zealand potatoes were attractive to Korean buyers, he said, because of their high quality and the country’s ability to supply potatoes during the northern hemisphere winter, when Korea’s supply is low.

The news was particularly welcome given the past two seasons, which have been very tough on potato growers with additional management costs from the tomato-potato psyllid running to an estimated $7m per season. Pysllid is not a biosecurity risk for South Korea.

Mr Olsen expected growers, particularly those already exporting to other markets, would immediately look to capitalise on the new export destination.

South Korea imports approximately 16,000 tonnes of fresh potatoes annually, mostly for making potato crisps. Potatoes New Zealand predicted demand for fresh potatoes would continue to grow as its population increased and it developed more Western tastes for products such as crisps. Currently the US supplied South Korea with around 80 percent of its potato imports, with Australia providing the remainder.

New Zealand’s commercial potato industry is worth $400m, with exports worth $100m.