Iowa trade delegation sees growing opportunity in Vietnam, Philippines

Burgeoning Asian markets promising

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An Iowa trade delegation is finding hungry markets for Iowa-grown meat and manufactured goods in growing south Asia economies in Vietnam and the Philippines.

“These are economies that are going to be growing and developing and we want to build a pathway for trade to about 180 million people,” Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill said this morning from Manila.

Hill and representatives of other commodity groups and Iowa businesses have had a series of meetings with government agencies and businesses in the countries that are seen as growing markets for Iowa exports.

According to the state Economic Development Authority, the Philippines and Vietnam are burgeoning markets for Iowa and U.S. businesses. Together, they have a population of nearly 200 million and South Asian markets are growing at more than 8 percent a year with a need for quality products, technologies and business opportunities.

The U.S. and Vietnam have a bilateral trade agreement and are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement.

Those traveling with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds on the state-sponsored trade mission aimed at increasing exports of Iowa pork to Southeast Asia and fostering export opportunities for Iowa manufacturers called it successful even if there were no concrete deals to announce during the call.

“These missions do have a lot of value,” said Jeff Hamilton, president of ESP International of Cedar Rapids, who said it takes time to create relationships and learn the culture of the countries. “The right people in the right spot is valuable.”

Greg Lear, president of the Iowa Pork Producers, was bullish on the opportunities to sell pork, especially in Vietnam where the diet revolves around pork. About 70 percent of the pork in both countries comes from what Lear called “uncredited” sources, often backyard butchers.

“Their food safety interests are quite minimal,” he said. “They’ll want to improve those conditions, so we want to be in play to assist with that.”

As the middle classes grow in the Philippines and Vietnam, Reynolds said consumers “will want that quality product, that name-brand and Iowa products really provide that for them. So it’s a great opportunity for Iowa.”

It’s not all about pork, however. Vietnam is Iowa’s fifth-largest beef customer.

Hill explained Vietnam is about the size of New Mexico with a population of 91 million people. Only 17 percent of the land is arable “so they have little ability, little capacity to produce for themselves.” Although they have some livestock production, they don’t have the feed grain supply to meet their protein needs, he said.

“They can source protein anywhere they want around the world,” Hill said. “There are other competitors who will be willing and more than happy to supply them. We just want to make sure Iowa has a foothold, has an opportunity, in that country.”

The mission is just the first step in developing the relationships needed for future trade, Hamilton said. He recalled his first trade mission was in 1999. Since then ESP International has doubled its employment and opened offices in India and China.

Those offices, he said, take a lot of high-level support at the company headquarters.

“The jobs we’ve added back in Cedar Rapids, for instance, are pretty high-level jobs and that’s really the key,” Hamilton said.

Vietnamese and Philippine companies are anxious to work with U.S. companies. In Vietnam, he said, there was great interest in foreign direct investment to develop their companies to help them to be more competitive on a world-wide basis.

“What we have to offer, as far as export to them, is some of the technological information they are looking for and how to compete on a global basis,” Hamilton said.

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