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Missouri Looks To Southeast Asia To Increase Ag Exports

Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
The wine that is made from these grapes in a central Missouri vineyard could be headed to southeast Asia as the Missouri Department of Agriculture is looking to market wines there.

Hank Ma has staffed the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Asian-Pacific trade office in Taiwan for more than 30 years, but he is not slowing down on trying to find new places to sell the state’s products.

Ma is planning to attend food and agriculture trade shows this summer now that easing COVID restrictions are making it possible for him to meet face to face with potential buyers.

“I believe there is potential for Missouri soybeans, corn, beef and chicken to increase sales in a number of countries,” Ma said. “This office started with working in Taiwan, then Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.”

Two new markets were on Ma’s radar before the coronavirus pandemic shut down most trade shows.

“Our next targets are Indonesia and Malaysia,” Ma said.

In 2017, Missouri exported more than $26 million in agricultural products to Taiwan and Vietnam. While much of that is traditional products like soybeans, corn and meat, it also includes almost $6 million in lumber to Vietnam and more than $1 million in dog and cat food to Taiwan.

Ma also said he thinks Missouri wines might be able to find a foothold in the region, as Asian tastes may be more receptive to Missouri wines than those from California.

“People here, they like something that is sweeter than the dry wine or semi-dry. So I believe there is a potential for Missouri wines,” Ma said.

He will be attending the Importers and Exporters Association of Taipei Wines and Liquors Promotion conference in September to try to sell Missouri wines.

All of this Asian trade is taking place in the shadow of China, the biggest importer in the region, where Trump administration tariffs and an ongoing trade war are still making things difficult for some U.S. producers.

But the state is not trying to guess what is going to happen at the federal level, said Davin Althoff, Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Director of Ag Business Development.

“Our focus is primarily on building and establishing relationships with our global partners and connecting buyers and sellers, despite any kind of trade challenges we may be dealing with,” Althoff said.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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