"Seeing possibilities in potatoes" is the upbeat slogan of Lamb Weston Potato Products, Inc., an American exporter.
But new trade deals mean that its foreign competitors have fewer obstacles blocking their view.
One is the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which came into effect on December 30th.
Negotiated as the TPP between 12 countries and agreed between 11, after President Donald Trump pulled America out,
the deal will phase out tariffs on frozen potato chips and mashed potato, benefiting Lamb Weston's Canadian rivals.
And another trade deal, between the European Union and Japan, to be implemented on February 1st, will do the same for its European ones.
The coming year is shaping up to be one of preferential trade deals, where two or a group of countries agree on their own trading rules.
As well as CPTPP and the EU-Japan deal, America is aiming to strike several: with Japan, the EU and China.
Will they act as stepping stones towards broad trade liberalisation—or, on the contrary, distort trade and divide the world into competing trade regions?
And what will be the impact on the multilateral system overseen by the World Trade Organisation (WTO)?
Economists have long argued about the impact of preferential trade deals.
For purists, it would be best if all trade took place under the WTO's "most-favoured nation" (MFN) principle,
which means that a tariff cut offered to one member must be offered to all, thus putting all exporters on an equal footing.
Others—self-described pragmatists—fear that reliance on the MFN principle would cause gridlock.
If some countries are happy with the status quo, others might be reluctant to cut tariffs for fear of granting rivals a free ride.
China, for example, could refuse to reform while benefiting from lower American and European duties.
Better, the pragmatists think, to strike smaller deals between like-minded members. That could spur laggards onwards:
Brent Baglien, Lamb Weston's vice-president of government affairs, urged the United States Trade Representative (USTR),
America's top trade official, to seek a deal with Japan that would eliminate its 8.5% tariff on American imported potatoes.
"Once the US loses an export customer, it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to get it back," he warned.