Asia represents an increasingly important export market for dairy farmers across the US, and particularly for those in California. Image: Lynn Betts/USDA NRCS.

Asia Steadily Accounting for Greater Share of US Dairy Exports


American dairy exports to Asia over the past decade have been outpacing the growth in exports to the rest of the world. US exports of dairy and related products rose approximately 586% over the past 13 years to all destinations, from about $1 billion in 2000 to near $7 billion in 2013. During the same period, dairy exports to Asia increased approximately 736%. Asia’s share of US dairy exports has risen from 34% in 2000 to 41% in 2013.

The rise is especially prominent in Southeast and East Asian markets. One fundamental reason behind this trend is economic growth and globalization across Asia, which has led to some changes in consumers’ preferences, resulting in more demand for dairy products such as cheese, powdered milk, and whey products. The US dairy industry has globalized as well, now exporting about 15% of its total products, up from just 5% in 2000.

US dairy exports have risen across the board, though Asia's share of all exports is steadily growing.

Since 2009, every Asian country at least doubled, and in some instances more than quadrupled, its dairy products imports from the US. These big Asian importers have significantly expanded the market opportunities for US dairy producers, who had already been facing a chronic decline in domestic demand since 1975. Milk production in the US has also increased with the recent boom in dairy exports. In 2009, the US produced 189.3 billion pounds of milk; in 2013, it was 201.2 billion pounds—an 11.9 billion pound increase.

The biggest dairy exporting state is California, which accounts for approximately one fifth of America’s total milk production and one third of its dairy exports. Roughly 30% of California’s dairy exports are shipped to countries across Asia, including 9% to China and Hong Kong, 6% each to Japan and the Philippines, and another 5% to South Korea. Taken together, meat and dairy exports to Asia were worth over $2 billion to California in 2012.

While many factors have combined to create the current dairy export picture, continued high levels of demand from Asia in the future are expected to be an important element in ensuring a consistently strong market for producers and exporters.

Hyung Ki (John) Kim is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.