Currently the United States’ sixth largest trading partner, Hong Kong remains a strategic market for the USDA, especially as a role model to other markets worldwide in terms of access and quality control
By Blessing Waung
Michael Scuse, the United States Department of Agriculture Undersecretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, had never been to Hong Kong before his visit in March. However, what he saw upon his first visit, he liked.
“Hong Kong is our sixth largest trading partner behind China, Canada, Mexico, Japan and the combined countries in the EU,” Scuse says. “This is a very important market for us.”
With its strategic geographical location, as well as a compliant, transparent government, Hong Kong is an ideal export partner for the US. “Hong Kong is a very easy place to export to,” Scuse says. “It’s unfortunate that other countries around the world don’t use this as a model. And that’s one of the reasons why we look at the trade agreements to make it easier to do trade, to break down some of the sanitary barriers that we’re facing in other countries.”
“If we could use this model, it would make trade so much easier for everyone,” Scuse says. “And we would be able to move a lot more products, give citizens of other regions and countries access to products that they may not have access to today, which I think that’s the great thing about Hong Kong – the variety and the access that you have.”
Through this access, Hong Kong citizens are able to select and purchase many products from the US. “When you look at Mainland China and some other countries within the region, you are looking at a lot of grain, and that’s not the case here in Hong Kong,” Scuse says. “You are looking at more high-end. You are looking at the wine. You are looking at fruits and vegetables.”
According to reports from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, imports of high value food products from the US to Hong Kong have surpassed US$4 billion, making it the leading food supplier to Hong Kong.
“I see a growing market here for many other products that we produce in the United States,” Scuse says. “When you look at the growth that Hong Kong is experiencing, as well as the level of income from the resident citizens, I look for us to continue expanding our market share.”
In order to meet demands for products, Scuse says that the US is looking to new solutions, including doing more research and development in the field of biotechnology.
“We need to start talking about biotech products, again other than yields,” Scuse says. “We need to talk about what biotech products are going to do for the environment, especially the climate change that is taking place today. If we are going to feed 9 billion people by 2050, the only way that we are going to do it is through science. We are not making any more land, so it’s going to take science.”
According to Scuse, “Going forward, science and technology are going to be extremely important to feed the growing world population, so I think there is some opportunities for the United States and China to work together in the science technology area to increase food production as well as food safety.”
In Hong Kong, there are no specific regulations pertaining to the labeling of biotech food products. In other countries, for example in the European Union, there is a delineation between conventional and biotech foods. However, Hong Kong’s stance on labeling is one where GMO products can be voluntary labeled, if vendors so choose.
“I believe that our farmers and ranchers produce very best, high quality products be found anywhere in the world. And if you look at the growth that we have experienced, the last six years have been the biggest six years for agriculture trade history of the United States. Last year, we broke the record again with US$152.5 billion worth of agriculture trade.”
A large piece of the strategic puzzle is focused upon this region of the world, Scuse says, where the growth has been faster than any other.
“If you look at just what it’s happened in trade in China, where in 2009 we were going approximately 12 billion dollars’ worth of agricultural trade to last year, just under 30 billion dollars’ worth of trade. That’s a significant in a very short period of time.”
Meat is also at the top of the USDA’s agenda, as Hong Kong granted US. Beef cuts and offal products full market access on in June of 2014.
“We have the best the best meat products I think that can be found anywhere in the world,” Scuse says. “Whether it’s beef, pork or poultry. With Hong Kong granting us access, hopefully, China will take those next steps and grant us full access for beef products.”
The US’s main competitor for red meat exports is Brazil, which accounts for 39 percent of the chilled and frozen red meat category. However, restaurants or high-end consumers in Hong Kong still largely prefer US beef.
Additionally, prepared and preserved red meats from China have more than twice the market share than that of the US, because of their price competitiveness and their preparation that ready-made for the products needed for typical Chinese dishes.
In order to continue the success of the USDA, though, much depends on the passing on the Transpacific Partnership. “Those countries that are part of the Transpacific Partnership represent 40% of the global GDP,” Scuse says. “So the potential for the increased agricultural trade if we can bring the TPP home and get it passed – what it means to agriculture is absolutely tremendous.”
Negotiations are still ongoing with the twelve member countries on the TPP, but it remains one of President Obama’s primary trade agenda goals. “I think we are getting very close to bringing the TPP to conclusion. The one thing that we really and truly need to actually get it finished is for Congress to give the president trade promotion authority,” Scuse says.
As Hong Kong enacted its Food Safety Ordinance in 2012 with higher standards to protect its consumers, including a registration program for food importers and distributors. Additionally, it requires traders to maintain their business records for better food traceability.
According to Scuse, no matter who the end consumer is, the USDA is committed to maintaining food safety standards that would the same for those consuming the products at home.
“But again, we believe that with the products that we are producing, the safety that goes into those products. We are recognized throughout the world as having the safest products to be found,” Scuse says. “When you look at the quality of our products, if you look at the price point for the quality that you are getting, we believe there is a tremendous potential and opportunity for American agriculture. That’s one of the reasons why we are doing trade missions.”
“In my travels, no matter where I go in the world, people in countries recognize the quality of U.S. products and they recognize the safety of U.S. products,” Scuse says. “The United States goes to great ranks to protect its consumers. And because of that, we’re also protecting citizens of our trading partners.”
“We have one system. It’s a single system for our citizens and for our exports. The food safety standards are the same.”