(Nov. 21, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) Fresh Idaho potatoes are shipped to the Chinese provinces of Hong Kong and Macao.

Frank Muir’s goal is to gain access to the rest of China.

To that end, Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, and Seth Pemsler, the commission’s vice president of retail marketing, joined Idaho Gov. Butch Otter for a recent trade mission to China.

The mostly agricultural mission began Oct. 27 and ended Nov. 6, Muir said. In that time, he and Pemsler visited five Chinese cities and met with many officials and businessmen interested in doing business with Idaho.

Muir said there’s a popular misconception about China that needs correcting.

“People asked me, ‘Why are you going to China? They eat rice, not potatoes,’” Muir said. “Well, they eat a lot of potatoes, too. They produce and eat more potatoes than any other country in the world.”

That’s not just because China has a billion people to feed, Muir said. The Chinese government also encourages farmers to grow potatoes instead of rice because spuds are more nutrient-dense and need less water to grow.

Still, fresh potatoes are a long way from breaking into mainland China markets, Muir said. The Chinese government was asked seven years ago to complete a pest risk study — the first step in opening markets to U.S. spuds. It has yet to do so, Muir said.

On the positive side, Gov. Otter, a former executive at potato processing giant J.R. Simplot Co., Boise, Idaho, spoke authoritatively about spuds on the mission, Muir said.

And in China’s cities, Muir said he was astounded by the large number of white-tablecloth restaurants, some of which were American-themed, serving up baked potatoes with their steaks.

Chinese distributors he talked to said the demand was there for those bakers to be Idaho-grown.

In other good news, commission members are set to meet with Chinese officials at a February meeting in New Orleans, Muir said.