As U.S. farmers struggle with export uncertainty and trade disruptions with China, the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) are continuing their efforts to offer stability and long-term solutions in the Southeast Asia region.
This week, USSEC, USGC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service hosted the 2019 S.E. Asia U.S. Agriculture Co‐operators Conference in Singapore from Aug. 6-8. In addition, U.S. farmers are on the ground to offer the desired face-to-face presence in the region to continue to build up the reputation that U.S. producers are reliable.
USSEC chief executive office Jim Sutter noted that trade disruptions have brought consequences, including strengthening U.S. soy competitors like Brazil and others in China.
“This trade war can’t go on forever. It’s difficult to have the number-one importer of soy in the world [China] never doing business with the number-one or -two producer of soybeans,” Sutter said of the U.S. “We will find some way to resolve this over time.”
Cary Sifferath, USGC senior director of global programs, also is optimistic that a trade solution will be found but said he doesn’t know how long it will take and how it will play out with the 2020 U.S. election year. “We remain optimistic we will be able to have a workable solution to resolve the trade dispute with China,” he added.
Still, Sutter noted that it’s unlikely that the U.S. will fully recapture the market it once held in China. “I think it has changed,” he said.
Sutter said in July 2018, when the trade war with China started to take hold and losing significant market share became a reality, USSEC put together a strategy coined “What It Takes” to replace the lost demand in China with demand from other markets.
He said although that hasn’t fully been achieved in 2019, China's demand also hasn’t completely been wiped out, as China still has made about 30% of previous-year purchases from U.S. producers. “I think we have a potential plan on how to get there,” Sutter said on replacing that lost demand. “I don’t want to be overly optimistic, as it will take some years of time.”
The focus now turns to sustaining other markets to export the U.S. production put on the market in any given year.
Sutter said USSEC has focused on growing market share in existing markets as well as growing markets organically in places where there is low demand today but opportunities to increase demand.
Although USSEC has been on the ground in Southeast Asia for more than 40 years, Sutter said the goal is to go at “maximum speed” to increase market share in the region, especially in areas with large populations and growing economic activity.
Sutter also said USSEC in the last year has continued to build on relationships in areas where efforts had already started. USSEC held 13 different events around the world as part of its “Keep US Soy Exports Great" events to offer the sales pitch that U.S. soy offers advantages and is readily available.
“In general, it’s working,” Sutter said, as soy exports to these markets are all on the rise as the efforts to ramp up these relationships turn into more sales.
Tim Loh, regional director of Southeast Asia for USSEC, said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is home to 650 million people, but the population is expected to grow to 690-695 million by 2025. These ten countries include: Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
Sifferath said USGC has also heavily invested in this region because of the promising market potential.
Manual Sanchez, USGC regional director for Southeast Asia, added that those efforts are paying off, because one-third of all dried distillers grains exported from the U.S. currently go to the region, recently surpassing Mexico as the top export market for the ingredient. The compound feed market as well as coarse grain demand also have grown tremendously in recent years.