Asean, a global food basket? | Inquirer Business
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Asean, a global food basket?

North and South America are considered global food baskets.

They are paramount suppliers of wheat, corn and soybean. Canada and the United States exported 30 percent by value of wheat in 2015, followed by Australia, France and Russia.

For corn, the US supplied 31 percent and Brazil 18 percent, followed by Argentina, Ukraine and France.


With respect to soybean exports, Brazil had 41 percent and US 37 percent, followed by Canada, Argentina and Paraguay (


On soybean meal, a key feeds component, Argentina, Brazil and US dominate.

What about Asean, the group of 10 Southeast Asian nations? It had total gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion and population of 624 million in 2015.


It is highly trade-intensive: Total exports of $1.2 trillion and imports of $1.1 trillion.

Asean is indeed regarded as a global food basket.

What is the score for Asean? What are the commodities in surplus?


Asean had the world’s largest rice surplus of 14 million tons in 2016, a third of world export.

Adjusted for exports to Asean, the net export was about 11 million tons.

Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar are exporters, while the rest, led by Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore are importers.

Palm oil

Asean supplies some 80 percent of the world surplus. Indonesia and Malaysia dominate the world market.

The net Asean importers are the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Palm kernel oil

Asean comprises nearly 80 percent of exports with Indonesia and Malaysia as key players.

Coconut oil

Asean accounts for three-quarters of world exports with the Philippines and Indonesia as major sources.

Cassava starch

Thailand and Vietnam account for 97 percent of world exports.


The region has a quarter of world exports with Vietnam and Indonesia as major suppliers. The Philippines is an importer.


The Philippines exports over 3 million tons of bananas to Asia and the Middle East. It is second to Ecuador in exports. Caveat. The official government figure of 1.4 million tons ($619 million) in 2016 is incorrect.

The latter puts the Philippines behind Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia.


The Philippines ranks No. 2 in exports with 18 percent, behind Costa Rica at 55 percent. The Philippines dominates the Asian market, especially Japan, China and Korea.

Canned pineapples

Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia account for over 80 percent of world exports. Asean has two-thirds of the world pineapple juice exports, with the Philippines and Thailand as movers.

Shrimps and prawns

Asean comprises nearly 30 percent of world exports with Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia as key players.

Fish fillet

Asean is almost tied with China at 22 percent each. Vietnam with 18 percent of quantity exported in the form of Dory fish is second to China.

Asean, however, posts deficits in other products.


While Thailand is the No. 2 world player, the Asean is a net importer.

In 2016, Thailand exported 6 million tons.

However, Indonesia imported 4.8 million tons; Myanmar, 2.2 million tons; Malaysia, 1.9 million tons; Cambodia, 688,000 tons; and Vietnam, 375,000 tons.

Chicken meat

Asean imported some 1 million tons of poultry meat with Vietnam and the Philippines as leaders.

These could not be compensated by the Thai export of 220,000 tons of value-added meat.

Pork meat

Singapore and the Philippines imported a total of 220,000 tons in 2016.


The region bought 1.1 million tons in 2016 with Vietnam importing two-thirds of the volume, followed by Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.


Asean is a major corn importer. In 2016, Vietnam imported 8.1 million tons; Malaysia, 3.6 million tons; Indonesia, 1.1 million tons; and the Philippines, 780,000 tons. Total: 13.6 million tons.


Asean does not produce wheat.


Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are major soybean importers (2.7 million tons in 2016).

Soybean meal

Soybean meal, a key feed ingredient, was heavily imported, too, with 5.8 million tons.

Dairy products

Asean is heavily import-dependent on dairy products. In 2016, $4.1 billion was bought by the region with the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia as the largest buyers.

Principal sources were New Zealand and Australia.

What lessons can be learned?

Asean is a surplus food exporter with over $50 billion in 2015.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam enjoy huge trade surpluses. However, it must trade other products to feed its people.

There are products that the region has a competitive advantage – rice, vegetable oils, tropical fruits, coffee, spices, seafood, etc.

But it has to import wheat, corn, sugar, soybeans, meat and dairy.

Where will Asean go?

Asean must be open to trade for broad-based food security. By and large, Asean has achieved relatively higher levels of productivity and diversification. These led to more advanced agri-manufacturing and processed exports.

Asean, however, must not sit on its laurels. Among its peers—Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam—the Philippines dismally lags based on agri-food trade.

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There are challenges: Climate change, increasing scarcity of land and water, aging farmers, and rural migration. But there are market opportunities. The rising middle class will demand more variety and quantity of quality food.

TAGS: North America, South America

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