Ted McKinney

Ted McKinney, the USDA’s undersecretary of trade and foreign agricultural affairs, says Vietnam and Southeast Asia offer many opportunities for U.S. agriculture.

Wrapping up a trade mission to Vietnam on Friday, Ted McKinney, USDA under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, said interest there is high in purchasing U.S. food and agricultural products.

Vietnam has a rapidly growing economy and wants to purchase food products from the U.S., he told reporters during a conference call from Ho Chi Minh City.

U.S. agricultural exports to Vietnam have “grown incredibly” since 1995, when the U.S. normalized relations with Vietnam. The country was the 95th largest market for U.S. agriculture that year. Last year, it was the seventh largest market for the U.S. at $4.2 billion, he said.

“We see enormous potential” for food and agriculture, fuel and fiber going to Vietnam,” he said.

“Clearly the U.S. is a country they want to do business with,” he said.

Nearly 80 people were on the trade mission, including representatives from USDA, state departments of agriculture, commodity groups and 34 companies.

The companies met with buyers from Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar in a “speed-dating” setting resulting in 665 one-on-one meetings over three days. Fourteen of those companies estimate the meetings will result in $5.1 billion to $5.2 billion in sales, and the rest have not yet reported, he said.

U.S. government officials also traveled to Hanoi to meet with representatives from Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of Industry and Trade and the country’s executive branch.

U.S. relations with Vietnam are “really, really outstanding and getting better,” he said.

Trade representatives also visited with key customers, including Vinamilk, which purchases a great deal of U.S. dairy products such as whey, lactose and other products, he said.

Anecdotally, the company accounts for 50% of the market share in Vietnam and thinks growth in dairy will continue, he said.

The U.S. is chasing every market it can in Vietnam, and there’s a lot of potential for proteins of all sorts with 60% of the population under the age of 35, he said.

The entire Asian Pacific is preparing for the lunar New Year, which starts in mid-January. The celebrations increase demand for pork and other proteins, and the region is dealing with losses from a massive African swine fever outbreak, he said.

USDA is optimistic about what can be achieved in Vietnam and in the region, he said.

Many other countries are also interested in purchasing food and agriculture products from the U.S., and populations are going to increase, he said.

India, Indonesia and the rest of the region know they need dairy products, he said, and the potential in Indonesia is exciting. That country has had a disagreement with the EU and wants to turn its dairy purchases to the U.S.

The visit to Vietnam was the fifth trade mission for USDA this year. Two more are planned, for Africa and Mexico. The agency is planning seven or eight trade missions next year, he said.

The missions are an opportunity to sell, visit major customers and meet with government officials, he said.

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