Every farmer knows that his or her soybeans have a good possibility of ending up in China, but there are many other strong export markets on the Asian continent for U.S. soy products.

Asia offers a range of differing markets.

In the 2016/17 marketing year, U.S. soybean farmers exported 70.442 million metric tons of whole soybeans, soybean meal, and soybean oil to markets around the world. A little over 14.645 MMT or just over 20 percent of these exports went to Asian countries, not including China. These exports were valued at $5.944 billion.

Tony Stafford, director of business development for the Missouri Soybean Association, says Asia is a very important market for soybean farmers in Missouri and across the United States. Stafford represented Missouri at the 2017 Grain Transportation Conference in Vietnam and has traveled to Cambodia and Myanmar on behalf of the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) program. Stafford says that developing personal relationships helps to create an even closer connection between U.S. growers and their destination markets.

Diverse Markets Require Varying Approaches

Soybeans are the largest agricultural commodity exported from the United States, representing more than $28 billion in export value in 2017, making export markets hugely important to U.S. soybean farmers’ profitability. Last year marked the second year in a row that exports exceeded 60 percent of U.S. soybean production.

The U.S. Soy industry is keenly aware of the importance of export markets. In 2017, a study through the United Soybean Board (USB) helped determine the most impactful global soy markets and assessed markets into different categories. Most of the markets in Asia are categorized as expansion or mature. In fact, 93 percent ofU.S. Soy-related trade value lies in expansion and mature markets.

In expansion or growth markets, the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), the international marketing arm of the U.S. Soy industry, works to continue to develop relationships and demonstrate the value of U.S. Soy, creating a preference for U.S. soybean products. In Asia, there are four expansion markets: the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In mature markets, work focuses on policy issues such as biotechnology. In these countries, the U.S. Soy industry works to maintain a good, respected relationship and provide support when asked. Three Asian markets are categorized as mature:  Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

WISHH focuses on trade and long-term market development for U.S. soybean farmers, while fueling economic growth and value chain development. WISHH helps to enhance countries’ protein intake through market development, education, and research, recognizing that the developing nations of today are tomorrow’s customers for U.S. Soy and soy protein. Currently, WISHH works in two Asian countries:  Cambodia and Myanmar. The Missouri Soybean Association and other qualified state soybean boards (QSSBs) support the ASA/WISHH program to develop new markets for U.S. Soy products.

Let’s take a deeper dive into these markets.


The Philippines has a close and longstanding relationship with the U.S.

Last year, the Philippines overtook Mexico to become the number one importer of U.S. soybean meal for the first time. In 2017, U.S. soybean meal held a solid 70 percent market share, and the country is the world’s sixth largest pork producer. While the majority of its soybean meal is destined for swine feed, U.S. Soy is also used for poultry and aquaculture.

Thanks to its sound economy and competitive expatriate workforce, the Philippines is one of Asia’s most dynamic emerging markets.


This country is the third largest importer of U.S. whole soybeans in the world. Over 92 percent of those soybeans are used to produce tempeh, a traditional native dish that binds soybeans into a cake-like form.

Indonesia is the 15th largest feed producer in the world. With the vast majority of its population of the Islamic faith, 80 percent of the total animal feed produced is for poultry.

With over 255 million people and a low per capita consumption of meat protein, the Indonesian market is expected to continue to grow.

In March 2018, a U.S. Soy delegation visited Indonesia on a Field to Market Mission. The team, which included grower leaders along with state and USSEC staff, connected with regional customers and the country’s agriculture industry. The Rumah Tempe Indonesia (House of Tempe), shown here, was established in 2012 as a model production facility for local Indonesian tempe producers to learn how to better produce tempe under hygienic conditions to meet food safety standards using better production systems and practices. Photo credit: USSEC.


Thailand has made tremendous progress in social and economic issues despite facing a number of political challenges. In 2011, the World Bank upgraded Thailand’s income categorization from a lower-middle income economy to an upper-middle income economy. Poverty has declined substantially over the last 30 years from 67 percent in 1986 to 11 percent in 2014 as incomes have risen.

Several highlights make Thailand a rising star for increasing U.S. Soy imports.

A major exporter of poultry products, the country is also home to a thriving aquaculture and shrimp industry and is the region’s largest shrimp producer. Thailand is ranked 14th in global feed production and boasts the largest domestic soy crushing industry in Southeast Asia. Finally, Thailand’s soy food and beverage industry is the largest and most sophisticated in the region.


The 35thlargest global economy is also the world’s 17thlargest feed producer. Vietnam’s primary food sectors include swine, poultry, and aquaculture, and the country’s commercial feed production has more than doubled since 2005. Per capita meat consumption is relatively low, compared to countries with higher incomes, but its middle and upper classes are on track to double by 2020.

Although Vietnam is led by a communist government, it is a relatively open and market-driven country.

“Vietnam is one of the world’s fastest growing markets for soy because of rapid economic growth and rising population,” says analyst John Baize. He recounts giving a presentation on global soy supply and demand and moderated a panel discussion of U.S. farmers attending the 2017 Asia Grain Transportation Conference in Ho Chi Minh City. “I [was] very impressed with those attending and with the positives happening in this country. Vietnam ostensibly remains a communist country, but you would not realize it because of all of the capitalism happening [there]. Great, growing market for U.S. Soy.”

South Korea

Despite its status as a mature and small market, South Korea became the second largest export market for U.S. soybean oil in the 2016/17 marketing year, thanks to the Korea – U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Technical and trade seminars and visits to the U.S., hosted by USSEC, also have helped this market to remain relevant. In fact, USSEC forecasts that U.S. soybean oil exports will grow to more than $150 million in 2018, making Korea the largest market for U.S. soybean oil exports.

The U.S. also has an 80 percent market share in soybeans used for food here.

The country is home to 50 million soy consumers, with the bulk of its soy used for swine, beef, poultry, and dairy. The South Korean crushing sector depends 100 percent on imports.

Korea also will soon become an opportunity for food grade soybeans and high oleic soybean oil.


Japan has experienced two decades of flat-to-negative economic growth. The country has a stable birth rate but a higher death rate associated with a rapidly aging population. This impacts potential growth of consumption of animal protein and vegetable oil.

Declines in soybean crush have plateaued and there have been increases in the soybean crush at the expense of canola. Despite the shrinking soybean crush, the U.S. enjoys a 70 percent market share in Japan.

Japan is the largest market for U.S. identity preserved (IP) food-grade soybeans. The U.S. Soy industry has been active in the Japan market for more than 60 years, and USSEC continues to nurture long-term relationships with customers there.


This country of 23 million imports all of its soybean needs. 70 percent of its food-grade soybeans are GMO soybeans grown in U.S. fields. Currently, Taiwan’s animal production is struggling to compete with imported meat products.

Three Taiwanese companies have added the Sustainable U.S. Soy (SUSS) logo to their products, which USSEC rolled out in 2016 as a pilot program in North Asia.

As more and more consumers around the world expect sustainable products, corporations are demanding supply chain sustainability, elevating sustainability from a “want” to a “need.” SUSS adds value by helping businesses adhere to their corporate sustainability policies and supplier guiding principles, thus differentiating themselves from their competition. Photo credit: USSEC.

Taiwan’s economic growth is increasingly tied to trade and tourism with China and it continues to be a strong destination for containerized soybeans.


WISHH’s work in Myanmar is with human foods, focusing on food grade soybeans for soymilk and tofu processors. USSEC works in the aquaculture and animal feed sectors.


In Cambodia, WISSH works with both human foods and animal feeds. There is a heavy focus on feed mills producing for the swine and poultry sectors, along with work with soymilk and tofu producers.

WISHH Asia Division Director Alan Poock says that the Missouri Soybean Association will help fund an aquaculture feeding trial in Cambodia starting this July.

Missouri Soybean Merchandising and WISHH board David Lueck and Missouri Soybean’s Director of Business Development and New Markets Tony Stafford traveled to Myanmar and Cambodia in July 2017, to meet with local soyfood and animal feed companies. (L to R): Lueck, Bun Chantrea (Worldfish Aquaculture Specialist), a Cambodian aquaculture farmer and Stafford visited an aquaculture farm. Photo credit: ASA/WISHH

Transporting soybeans quickly and efficiently is top of mind for farmers in Missouri, says Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

“One of the reasons Missouri soybean farmers are so well positioned to benefit from the growth in soybean demand in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Asian countries is the efficient access to the Mississippi River – our nation’s chief maritime highway. Other soybean producing nations have navigable waterways, but the Mississippi River is unique in that it penetrates into some of the most productive farm ground in the world, “Steenhoek explains.

“As a result, Missouri soybean farmers can access international demand due to their proximity to cost effective river transportation. Making sure the Mississippi River is properly maintained and continuing to explore how to better utilize the Missouri River – an asset with unrealized potential – are essential to ensuring Missouri soybean farmers remain profitable in the future.”

Clearly, says Stafford, there are many reasons for Missouri farmers to be optimistic about U.S. Soy exports to Asia.

“We are very excited about the opportunities in Asia. With one of the youngest work forces in the region and a real appetite for U.S. products, the Missouri Soybean Association is concentrating our effort in Vietnam. We’re also starting to expand some efforts to Cambodia and Myanmar as WISHH continues to develop those markets.

“I feel like we have a lot to look forward to.”