Say Cheese: West Coast Dairy Trade Mission Goes to Southeast Asia

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by Genna Liu
A Utah representative poses with a manager of a Singaporean grocery store that carries Utah cheese. [Image: Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council]

Business and government representatives from four western states – Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Arizona – recently traveled to Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore for a 14-day dairy trade mission that focused on establishing a sustainable trade channel between the two regions. Delegates of the trade mission – organized by the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council – participated in trade events and visited local food distributors.

With the burgeoning middle class and growing demand for protein-rich food in Southeast Asia, the trade mission sought to expand the US dairy export market, particularly by increasing the presence of small and medium-sized firms (SMEs). While there are currently a few dairy processors from these West Coast states that export to Southeast Asia, the limited number of exporters and high transportation costs prevent more firms – especially SMEs – from joining. A reliable trade channel could cut transportation costs and incentive more firms to export. Combining several firms’ products into one air freight shipment would drastically reduce transportation costs, and given more demand, firms would be able to switch to ocean shipping, a more cost-effective method.

Dairy firms are looking to export ice cream, whey, and cheese – not part of traditional Southeast Asian diets – to the region, which has been receptive to foreign foods. Many stores in Malaysia and Singapore carry artisan cheeses, which are increasingly consumed by the countries’ growing middle classes. In addition to traditional US products, dairy firms are considering producing foods popular in Southeast Asia, including flavored butters and drinkable yogurts.

The two regions have long engaged in dialogues about dairy trade. A delegation from the three Southeast Asia countries visited Oregon, Utah, and Idaho in 2016 to learn about dairy product availability, quality, safety, and manufacturing. Additionally, a trade mission organized by the Oregon Department of Agriculture explored dairy markets in South Korea, China, and Japan as representatives visited Seoul, Hong Kong, Macau, and Tokyo in 2014.

Genna Liu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a government and economics student at Dartmouth College.