The North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner led seven of the state’s food companies on a trade mission to Manila, Philippines in March. The mission was an opportunity for North Dakota’s food suppliers to present their high quality products to an emerging market.
The four-day trip began with market briefings by the US Department of Agriculture, followed by tours of local supermarkets and food processing facilities, meetings with the US ambassador to the Philippines and other Embassy officials, and one-on-one meetings with Filipino buyers. The inaugural ‘Better for You Food Ingredients’ Conference and Exhibition that was held on the last day attracted approximately 100 attendees, and educational programs and cooking performances were held. The food companies’ expenses for the trade mission were covered by the North Dakota Trade Office’s Specialty Crop Program, a reimbursement program to increase competitiveness and visibility in the global market for the state’s specialty crops sector. North Dakota’s leading agricultural products are legumes and other crops, and this year the program resulted in over 3800% investment returns. A focus on specialty crops was initially introduced by the Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to cultivate higher quality products. Companies with GMO- free and/or organic products, seeking opportunities to export overseas, were the main participants in this mission.
The Filipino market holds great potential for North Dakota’s international trade in agricultural products. With 90% of its land devoted to agriculture and incentives to produce high quality products, Southeast Asia, — especially the Philippines — are ideal markets. Despite international concerns on Philippine President Duterte’s methods, his approval ratings remain high at 78% in March, and the top concern among Filipino people is health, according to a survey last December. 97% of Filipinos are willing to pay more for foods that promote good health and reduce the risk of diseases, and nearly half prefer non-GMO products. The region as a whole has a high demand for healthy meals, and health consciousness is increasing. The Philippines has the best middle class potential of all countries for the next decade, and its GDP growth rate in 2016 surpassed that of China.
Yumiko Kozu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an exchange student at Dartmouth College.