COVID-19 has put a damper on many international trade opportunities. Visiting with travel partners was nearly impossible at times – creating fractured relationships, missed connections and recessing economies.
Hopefully that’s about to change. After difficult two years, travel opportunities are starting to open back up.
Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) Director Patrick O’Leary was able to make some strides forward to reestablishing those relationships during his travels to Thailand and the Philippines earlier in March. It was O’Leary’s first visit to the region since January 2020, just weeks before the world changed forever.
“We really got to survey what has been going on within the market,” O’Leary said. “Additionally, we were able to redevelop those long-lost relationships.”
During his travels, O’Leary still noticed some of the effects COVID-19 has on the countries he visited.
“Tourism is not what it used to look like,” he said. “Airports are empty.”
Thailand saw around 40 million tourists – 12 percent of their GDP in 2019 and the Philippines saw around 8.26 million tourists – 12.8 percent of their GDP in 2019.
Both countries have seen significant decreases as in 2020 Thailand had 6.7 million tourists and the Philippines had 1.32 million. But Thailand purchased $460 million worth of U.S. whole soybeans in 2021. The Philippines imported $847 million in soybean meal from the U.S. in 2021, the most of any international market.
While in the two countries, O’Leary met with numerous contractors and businesses to better understand the current soybean meal market. He also learned of trade barrier restrictions on crude protein while in Thailand and was brief on how African Swine Fever has impacted both countries he visited.
The meat production has been affected vastly due to lack of tourism, O’Leary said. And cost of goods are going up.
“The trip gave me the opportunity to know what the next steps are,” he said. “Management has changed, the industry has changed and it’s time to redevelop those connections to be able to effectively sell our soybeans to these markets.”