US exported agricultural products continue to see huge sales in Asia thanks to reciprocal trade delegations. Image: TumblingRun

US-Asia Agricultural Trade Bolstered by Mutual Visits


Fall 2014 witnessed a plethora of international delegations from the Asia Pacific touring various agricultural facilities in the US. Representatives from the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Vietnam visited Wisconsin grain farms and ethanol plants in late October. Wisconsin is a major provider of foodstuffs to Asia, exporting $642 million in oilseed and grains to the region in 2012. Also this October, a trade team from Japan toured a South Dakota dairy farm to learn about American livestock cultivation. No less than 40% of South Dakota’s exports were destined for Asia in 2012, and Japan continues to be the state’s fifth largest export partner. In September, North Dakota hosted visitors from Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam at a soybean processing workshop. According to the North Dakota Soybean Council, one of the primary goals of this event was to teach international buyers how to use amino acid content as an indication of crop quality.

This fall’s surfeit of agricultural envoys coincided with the 2014 Export Exchange, which took place from October 20-22 in Seattle. Sponsored by the US Grains Council and the Renewable Fuels Association, the Export Exchange is held biennially in order to promote international trade and forge fruitful business connections among farmers throughout the world. The 2014 symposium showcased over 150 buyers from 31 countries spanning five continents; no fewer than 70 hailed from the Asia Pacific. Eighteen delegations toured US farms either before or after attending the symposium.

Reciprocal exchanges from America to Asia are likewise on the rise. Statesmen and farmers from Oregon and Washington recently toured Southeast Asia in a bid to boost international potato sales. Grant Kimberly, who serves as Director of Market Development for the Iowa Soybean Association, has ventured overseas fifteen times in a diplomatic capacity, and he stresses the importance of “[building] relationships” with international partners.

As markets go global and farmers conduct more of their business overseas, cross-cultural communication takes on new urgency. Recognizing the need for more fluent international dialogue, Nebraska established the Leadership Education and Action Development (LEAD) program at Wayne State University, which instructs farmers and businessmen in the nuances of trans-oceanic collaborations. This past fall, the 33rd LEAD class was busily studying the cultures of Nepal, India, and the UAE in preparation for a trip to South and West Asia early in 2015. International exchange programs targeted towards young farmers, such as AgriVenture and the Worldwide Farmers Exchange, seek to foster a global perspective in the upcoming generation of agronomists.

In 1990, Asian markets accounted for $15.9 billion of America’s total agricultural exports (40.1%); by 2010, that sum had risen to $49.8 billion (43.0%). This growth reflects Asian consumers’ continued confidence in the quality of US foodstuffs, while the burgeoning popularity of onsite tours and bilateral knowledge exchanges demonstrates the importance of trade in intangible assets.

Olivia Waring is a graduate of Princeton and Oxford Universities and a Research Intern at the East West Center in Washington DC.