Southeast Asia catches swine fever, U.S. crop exporters get the chills



Naveen Thukral | Reuters

Last year, Southeast Asian farms offered a lifeline to U.S. grain exporters wounded in a bitter trade war with China. Now, African swine fever is set to tear through those markets, killing off business as surely as the fatal disease decimates vast herds of pigs once raised on U.S. crops.

U.S. feed crop exports to countries like Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines surged nearly 50% last year to a record 12.3 million tonnes. That helped to cushion the blow of a slump that wiped out nearly three-quarters of China sales of the same crops as Washington and Beijing exchanged tit-for-tat trade tariffs.

But the scale of the shipments to Southeast Asia that could be lost due to the incurable pig disease highlights the headache for growers in the U.S. grainbelt: Unless a trade deal unlocks China, farmers will have little option but to stockpile, not sell their crops.

“There will probably be a drop in hog production (in the Philippines) and also in demand for commercial feeds, just like what has happened in other countries,” said Edwin Chen, president of the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines. Feed grain demand is already slowing in the country, the world’s fourth-largest soymeal importer, after outbreaks of the disease.

Though not harmful to humans, African swine fever is deadly to pigs, with no vaccine available. It surfaced for the first time in Asia more than a year ago, in China, and has now spread to over 50 countries, according to the World Organisation of Animal Health – including those that account for 75% of global pork production.


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