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It is certainly true that the trade relations between the United States and China have been and remain in a difficult place. However, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is confident that this trade confrontation will one day be resolved. After many years investing funding from the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, USW remains engaged in keeping our once and future wheat importing customers in China informed about the quality, variety and value of U.S. wheat in anticipation of future opportunities.

USW maintains a presence in Beijing but did not replace a retired colleague to help hold the line on FMD investment. Trade service visits in the first six months of 2019 confirm that private flour millers want to continue importing U.S. hard red spring (HRS) and soft white (SW) when the tariff conflict is resolved. The only flour miller who purchased any U.S. wheat in marketing year 2018/19 was willing to pay the 25% punitive tariff and took delivery of 43,000 metric tons of HRS in April. He expressed an abiding interest in the functionality, flavor and good milling characteristic of U.S. wheat, and holds high hopes for not just a “normal” trading relationship, but one that allow mills like his to run much more of it.

USW representatives also conducted trade service visits with customers attending Bakery China Shanghai 2019. They participated in a U.S. agricultural product showcase sponsored by the USDA/FAS Agricultural Trade Officer posted in Shanghai to highlight the differential advantages of U.S. HRS and other classes of wheat. USW Regional Vice President Jeff Coey reported that every customer was eager to regain access to the high-quality U.S. wheat they learned about through export development programs and experience over the years.

Officials with China’s state-sponsored grain buying agencies also welcome USW trade servicing, technical training and relationship management activities. Even with the tariffs in place, in May 2019 Coey and USW/Beijing Country Director Shirley Lu were invited to speak at a conference in Xiamen to several millers who gained new information about the functional value of U.S. wheat classes. Bakery training classes conducted by USW’s technical specialist in 2019 also expanded awareness of U.S. wheat’s superior functional benefits.

In addition, officials were happy to hear that USW’s commitment to the China market remains unchanged.  In fact, USW told the officials it intends to increase its activities in partnership with FAS in part with funding from the Agricultural Trade Promotion (ATP) program to keep U.S. wheat top of mind among users and policy makers in China. Under ATP, for example, USW plans to hold a series of “Contracting for Wheat Value” courses in the United States for commercial and state wheat buyers over the next three years. Participants will be managers with direct wheat trade contacts that influence wheat purchasing in their organizations. After the courses, participants will get the chance to observe wheat breeding, farms, transportation, quality control and Federal Grain Inspection Service processes.

Given that China imported 1.6 million metric tons of U.S. HRS, SW and soft red winter (SRW) wheat in marketing year 2016/17 and more than 800,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat in 2017/18 before the retaliatory tariffs were implemented, potential demand will benefit farmers in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Plains. And, with funding from MAP, FMD and ATP, USW’s commitment to service in China will continue long after this trade conflict has ended.

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The export market development programs administered by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service are highly successful partnerships with U.S. farmers, ranchers, dairy producers and small food businesses. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the Washington Grain Commission (WGC) are leveraging that partnership to increase demand for soft white wheat in Guatemala.

Over several years, USW and WGC have worked together to educate decision makers at commercial bakeries and food manufacturers in Latin America about the benefits of low protein soft white (SW) wheat. WGC provides direct funding from its checkoff program and USW uses funding from the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program.

In 2013, USW sent an expert in “premix” consumer bakery products to work with an innovative and growing Guatemalan flour mill and wheat foods company. The consultant helped the company set up a small plant to develop formulations for chocolate and vanilla cake mixes as well as pancake and corn bread mixes using flour from U.S. SW wheat. After extensive quality testing and production refinement, the company has now successfully launched these branded consumer products through a large Guatemalan supermarket chain.

With direct producer funding, USW also worked with WGC to conduct a seminar with the same company designed to show how blending flour from U.S. SW and other wheat classes can improve end-product quality while reducing flour costs compared to competing wheats. Milling consultant Andrea Saturno and USW Technical Specialist Marcelo Mitre demonstrated several different blending proportions and conducted bake tests at the company’s own laboratory. The company continued trials on its own and chose a blend of 50 percent SW and 50 percent U.S. hard red winter (HRW) wheat that it successfully markets as an industrial bread flour.

In addition, the company says its two largest flour customers now purchase SW-based flour to manufacture branded cookie and cracker products. One of the customers recently built a new cookie factory that represents an opportunity for USW to expand its technical assistance.

Such end-user success and growth creates an opportunity to continue expanding annual SW exports to Guatemala of almost 130,000 metric tons per year, valued at more than $25 million, making Guatemala the largest SW volume importer in Latin America. Total U.S. wheat commercial sales to Guatemala in marketing year 2017/18 exceeded 527,000 MT.

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Noodles are the staple product in South Korea that represent more than 50 percent of Korean wheat food consumption. For many years, manufacturers have preferred Australian wheat to produce noodle flour, and specifically “Australian Noodle Wheat” that helps produce an end product with the color favored by consumers. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is addressing the competitive advantage and increasing market share by providing technical service funded by the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program.

Every year since 2015, the USW Seoul Office conducts a Korean Noodle Flour Development short course at the Wheat Market Center (WMC) in Portland, Ore., and a Noodle Flour Blending Seminar in Seoul to demonstrate the advantages of blending with U.S. wheat.

Representatives from one noodle manufacturer and two mills from Korea attended the 2017 course, where they researched flour blends using an increased percentage of U.S. wheat flour in instant noodle products. The participants concluded that using more U.S. wheat still allowed them to maintain the preferred product color and quality while reducing input costs. Blends include varying percentages of flour from U.S. soft white, hard red spring and hard red winter wheat classes.

In December 2017, USW shared the course results and reviewed quality parameters with Korean noodle manufacturers and flour millers. A highly regarded local expert presented information on quality parameters affecting noodle flour functionality. Because of this, one company said that they intend to use HRS for a new end-product line in 2018. Another company reported that they increased U.S. wheat percentage in their noodle formulation from 50 percent in CY15 to 90 percent in CY17, and is also using U.S. wheat flour in their export product portfolio, which increased by 20,000 metric tons (MT) in CY17. And a third company reported that they also increased U.S. wheat in their blends in CY17, absorbing 10,000 MT of additional U.S. wheat flour. All participants reported that the seminar provided a valuable opportunity to share information on improving noodle quality.

Despite lacking a single U.S. wheat class with optimal noodle quality, USW’s efforts — funded by state wheat commissions, MAP and FMD — have helped secure a 20 percent share of the wheat imported for the Korean noodle market. The top four instant noodle manufacturers in South Korea consistently now use more than 45 percent U.S. wheat, up from less than 25 percent in 2009.

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USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) works closely with government agencies, both domestic and foreign, to ensure that free trade agreements (FTA) and tariff rate quotas (TRQ) are carried out and to help maintain a positive trading environment for U.S. wheat producers.

Moroccan wheat imports are subject to a TRQ for hard red winter (HRW), hard red spring (HRS) and durum wheat under a bilateral FTA with the United States. However, its implementation has faced difficulties due a difference in the interpretation of the agreement and corresponding administrative procedures. The TRQ annual amount varies, depending on the size of the local wheat crop. U.S. preference is calculated on a calendar year basis, so Morocco typically tenders for the entire TRQ amount at the beginning of the calendar year when U.S. wheat is usually not price competitive with other sources. This is a problem for U.S. wheat imports, especially when Morocco only typically launches one tender annually. The timing of the tenders often means Morocco meets the basic terms of the FTA but has no or low TRQ utilization for U.S. wheat.

In 2014, Morocco only allocated 9,000 metric tons (MT) of the 400,000 MT TRQ. That was the only year between 2011 and 2015 that our FTA partner purchased U.S. wheat under the TRQ. Morocco’s government buying agency did tender three times in 2016, but the 800,000 MT of U.S. HRW it did import was due to crop failure in Morocco rather than any substantial TRQ policy improvements.

USW staff based in Casablanca, Morocco, and Europe worked closely with trade policy staff at its headquarters in Arlington, Va., to collect all relevant information on historical tenders as well as rules and participation in FTA related activities. USW also outlined a detailed comparison between the U.S. FTA with Morocco and the FTA Morocco has with the European Union (EU), which showed unfair advantages to EU-produced wheat.

USW presented this information to the FAS and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives (USTR). USW, together with FAS and USTR, convinced Morocco’s Cereals Office (ONICL) to issue multiple tenders to fairly evaluate U.S. wheat under the TRQ at different periods during the marketing year.

Because of this trade service activity, funded in part by U.S. wheat farmers and with the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, Morocco imported 360,000 MT of HRW during the first half of marketing year 2017/18 under the Morocco FTA, for only the second time in 11 years, representing the entire TRQ allotment for purchases of common wheat. The TRQ imports returned about $70 million to U.S. wheat farmers in the Southern and Central Plains and wheat export supply participants.

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Cake and pastry consumption in the People’s Republic of China is growing but millers there struggle to produce the best flour for their customers. By leveraging expertise on its staff and working with public and private partners, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) were increasing exports of soft white wheat to China for farmers in Washington state, Oregon and Idaho prior to the implementation of retaliatory tariffs.

Soft white (SW) wheat mills into excellent cake and pastry flour needed to meet growing Chinese demand. Chinese mills have some influence on what type of wheat may be imported and may import a limited amount of wheat privately. This supports USW using funding from the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program to promote SW performance and help millers purchase it and mill it.

In June 2017, USW brought six executives from four Chinese flour mills to Portland, OR, to participate in a wheat procurement course and visits to the USDA-ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory in Pullman, WA, and SW breeding programs in the Pacific Northwest.

In China, USW arranged technical support meetings at local flour mills. Its Beijing and Hong Kong staff set up local trials with millers to demonstrate SW flour performance in Chinese and Western style baking. USW continued sending consultants to the Sino American Baking School in Guangzhou to teach new bakers the best uses of SW flour in cakes and pastries.

Also in 2017, USW and flour mill manufacturer Buhler teamed up to put on a week-long technical seminar focused on the milling of SW at Buhler’s location in Wuxi, Jiangsu province.  Peter Lloyd and Buhler experts addressed 16 managers from eight Chinese mills who all reported that the seminar addressed some of the unfamiliar challenges of milling SW.

After importing less than 52,000 metric tons (MT) of SW in marketing year 2015/16 (June 1 to May 31), China purchased more than 227,500 MT in 2016/17. In 2017/18, China’s imports of SW stood at 307,000 MT. USW staff notes that much of this volume was imported by trading companies that had to pay out of quota duties on the wheat, in the hope of selling it on to Chinese mills willing to pay a premium over domestic wheat.

That year, prior to the trade conflict with China, total U.S. wheat exports reached 1.6 MMT with returns of more than $330 million 2017/18 to wheat farmers and related industries in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

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In Taiwan, wheat consumption has steadily grown while rice consumption has declined. The reason, in no small part, is because USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has provided expertise, guidance and encouragement to accelerate a cultural shift toward consuming more baked goods.

With funding from the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program helping maintain USW staff in Taipei, USW has been a partner to an innovative milling and baking industry for more than 50 years. That has helped USW identify that the public must be enticed by novelty, nutrition and flavor for Taiwanese wheat consumption to continue growing. Higher end baked items from naturally fermented dough, fancier pastries, confections and Japanese style cakes are becoming the focus of ever more sophisticated tastes.

With activity funding from the Market Access Program (MAP), USW has helped its customers in the milling, baking, vocational training, and education sectors to remain competitive by developing novel baked goods that favor the use of flour milled from U.S. hard red spring (HRS), hard red winter (HRW) and soft white (SW) wheat classes.

One example of how USW is helping sustain the growth in wheat foods is a sour dough baking seminar in October 2017, jointly developed and conducted by a Taiwanese flour mill, Chia Nan University and USW, funded in part through MAP. A total of 100 participants from southern Taiwan, including university professors, technology high school teachers, bakers as well as hotel and catering company chefs, attended the day-long seminar. The topics included information about why U.S. HRW and HRS wheat classes provide the correct functional flour performance for sour dough baked goods including white and whole wheat bread, bagels, baguettes, etc. The instructors also showed the advantages of U.S. SW flour in sour dough cream cakes and even cheese corn soup. A survey showed that all participants found value in the seminar and that they would strongly consider developing new sour dough products or incorporate the products into their baking curriculums.

Helping wheat consumption grow is particularly important in a market like Taiwan, which imports about 78 percent of its wheat on average from the United States. Five years ago, in marketing year 2013/14 (June 1 to May 31), Taiwan imported 1.28 million metric tons (MMT), of which 1.05 MMT was U.S. wheat. In 2017/18, Taiwan imported 1.39 MMT, of which 1.14 MMT came from U.S. farmers. U.S. wheat export prices vary by class and from year to year, but in 2017/18, USW invested almost $535,000 in FMD and MAP funding and estimates the total value of our exports to Taiwan in 2017/18 was at least $260 million.

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It can be an uphill battle to convince milling wheat buyers to opt for premium-priced, but better performing, U.S. wheat. Long-term investments funded by wheat farmers through state wheat checkoff programs, the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, however, have yielded significant gains.

In the Philippines, USW has helped flour millers and commercial food companies build and maintain a multi-year campaign to increase consumption of wheat-based foods. Over the past five years, annual per capita consumption of wheat in the island nation has increased from 23 to 29 kilograms. That is an annual demand increase of 600,000 metric tons of wheat, with an estimated 97 percent of that wheat coming from the United States.

U.S. wheat enjoys this level of market dominance because the program investments have helped USW stay “on the ground” in the Philippines and other Asian markets for decades, making trade and technical service calls and conducting wheat food production training. USW Regional Vice President Joe Sowers says the producer funds, FMD and MAP are essential to building trust with buyers and end-users who also look to USW for advice.

For example, a large Filipino flour miller had collaborated with USW on several activities and immediately following its participation in the Buhler-KSU Executive Milling Course at IGP Institute in Manhattan, KS, June 12 to 16, 2017, the mill started printing “Guaranteed 100% U.S. Wheat” on its flour bags. This effectively locked the mill’s 90,000 MT of annual wheat purchases into U.S. origin supplies. This change also influenced another flour mill that conducts cooperative shipping with the first mill to purchase only U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat even though Canadian spring wheat was offered at an FOB export price of $35 per metric ton less than U.S. HRS.

USW’s work to establish U.S. origin wheat as a quality standard for Philippine flour directly contributed to 175,000 MT of HRS sales in marketing year 2017/18 (June 1 to May 31) with an estimated FOB value of $50 million. Overall, the Philippines purchased more HRS and more U.S. soft white (SW) wheat than any other country in 2017/18.

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In Colombia, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is helping increase demand for flour made from U.S. hard red winter (HRW) wheat by investing in technical support for commercial bakeries using funding from the Market Access Program (MAP).

Demand for better quality baked goods is growing in Colombia, with increasing disposable consumer income in urban areas like the capital Bogota. To offset traditional preferences for Canadian spring wheat as the main source of flour in Colombia, USW is following a strategy to conduct artisan style bread baking seminars. The processes they are teaching produce better quality bread that appeals to consumers and require flour with more HRW, which helps bakeries reduce input costs compared to flour from higher priced Canadian spring wheat flour.

For example, USW contracted with baking consultant Didier Rosada to conduct a full week of baking and technical consulting in August 2017 at a large commercial bakery chain in Bogota that produces over 117 bread varieties, two pastry product lines and more than 60 à la carte dishes in its restaurants. The company found the demonstrations so appealing, it immediately asked suppliers to provide the HRW flour blend that Rosada used in his seminars. As a direct result of this MAP-funded export market development activity, one of the company’s flour supplier imported a relatively small volume of HRW in November 2017. Immediate sales of that flour convinced the mill to change its artisan bread flour blend from a base of 80 percent Canadian Western Red Spring wheat to 100% HRW in 2017 and it became the regular supplier to the bakery chain.

In marketing years 2014/15 and 2015/16 (June to May), Colombia imported 430,000 metric tons (MT) of HRW. The technical support strategy there has helped increase HRW commercial sales to 977,000 MT in 2016/17 and 2017/18, supporting U.S. wheat farmers from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. These exports represent total revenue of about $217 million.

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Vietnam’s flour millers annually import a total of more than 1.8 million metric tons (MMT) of milling wheat and wheat consumption is projected to grow by 4 percent to 6 percent per year. Rapidly expanding demand there for cookies, crackers and cakes is an ideal target market for low-protein soft white (SW) wheat grown in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

With funding from the Foreign Market Development (FMD) and Market Access Program (MAP), U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has demonstrated the advantages of SW flour by introducing solvent retention capacity (SRC) analysis to Vietnam’s millers and manufacturers. Even though Vietnam imposes a 5 percent tariff on imported milling wheat and competing Australian wheat enters duty free, U.S. SW annual imports increased from about 39,000 metric tons (MT) in marketing year 2013/14 (June to May) to almost 93,000 MT in 2015/16.

That import pace continued into early 2016/17, but after discovering minor insect presence in some U.S. wheat and DDGS cargoes, the Vietnamese government on Dec. 1, 2016, required all U.S. shipments be fumigated with the insecticide methyl bromide. This effectively blocked U.S. wheat exports because methyl bromide is banned for most uses here and is impractical for bulk grain treatment.

USW Headquarters and Southeast Asia office staff immediately began working with the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to address this issue. USW provided some of the information APHIS used in an official response to Vietnam, which opened the door to negotiations. APHIS and shippers ultimately established specific insect control requirements that were acceptable to Vietnam’s Plant Protection Department. The restriction ended Aug. 31, 2017, a notably fast resolution to such a significant Sanitary/Phytosanitary trade barrier.

Soft white exports to Vietnam dipped to about 58,000 MT in 2016/17. Yet USW kept providing trade service and technical support visits to Vietnamese flour mills and bakeries. Although millers could not import U.S. wheat for the first three months of 2017/18, SW sales for the year rebounded to more than 93,500 MT, valued at almost $19 million. Total U.S. wheat exports to Vietnam, including hard red spring and hard red winter wheat, in 2017/18 reached almost 186,000 MT.

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Because no two crops are alike, the world’s flour millers, bakers and wheat food processors must have some assurance that the wheat they buy will meet their needs. That is why USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and its partner organizations collect and analyze samples of all six classes of U.S. wheat, compile results and share that data around the world every year.

Legacy organizations to USW first identified the need to quickly gather and share new crop data in 1960. Since then, wheat farmer checkoff dollars and Market Access Program (MAP) funding have been invested to publish a complete picture of each year’s harvest. This commitment to transparency offers confidence in the data that, together with the trade service and technical support also funded by MAP and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, help differentiate U.S. wheat exportable supplies from competing supplies from Russia, Ukraine, Europe, Canada, Australia and Argentina.

USW works with several wheat quality organizations, including the Federal Grain Inspection Service and the USDA/ARS Hard Winter Wheat Quality Laboratory, to collect, grade and analyze thousands of wheat samples from local elevators and sub-lot samples from export elevators. Sampling begins with early winter wheat harvest and continues until the U.S. hard red spring (HRS) and durum harvests are complete, usually by early October. The data is compiled by class and by production region. By late October, class reports and a complete USW Crop Quality Report are published on USW’s website and the Crop Quality Report is printed as a booklet in English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Mandarin.

USW then sends teams of farmers, wheat quality experts and representatives out to present that year’s data to its buyers. By mid-December, USW has presented current characteristics on grade factors, protein levels, flour extraction rates, dough stability, baking loaf volume, noodle color and texture and more for all six U.S. wheat classes to hundreds of buyers, millers and processors in more than 25 countries. Buying decisions are made because of this effort; some are acted upon quickly. For example, with information they learned at USW’s 2015 Crop Quality Seminar, millers in Portugal imported 36,500 metric tons of HRS for the first time in 3 years.

U.S. wheat crop quality data forms the basis for our farmers’ ability to compete in the global wheat market. Without funding from MAP and the support of federally-funded inspection and quality analysis labs, this essential service to overseas customers would not be possible. It provides crucial support to annual U.S. wheat export sales averaging more than 26 million metric tons per year.