Lindblom agrees on the region’s market potential, but notes it faces many challenges. For soybeans and soybean meal, he cites the costs of logistics and transportation, competition from alternative sources of energy and protein, and industry development issues such as the need to improve animal husbandry and control diseases.

Current high commodity prices are also a limiting factor. “This has pressured livestock and poultry raisers,” he explains. “Our region has many alternative sources of protein available, and end-users will tweak their formulation to reduce soybean meal use if it becomes too expensive. Consumers will also change their spending habits as higher food prices take a toll. In our part of the world, 50-60% of disposable income goes to food.”

Logistics are also an issue for U.S. corn sales, says Yusupov. In a major change over the past 15 years, most of Southeast Asia’s main ports can now handle Panamax grain shipments, but that doesn’t guarantee U.S. sales.

“Our competition in South America can load 75,000-ton vessels, while the U.S. can load a maximum of 65,000 tons, which gives Argentine-origin corn a freight advantage. We need deeper draft ports that can load super Panamax vessels to be able to compete,” he says.

In some cases, U.S. corn shipments benefit when big importers can book a mixed load with soybeans or soybean meal in some holds and corn completing the cargo.

“Southeast Asia is a unique spot,” says Schaaf. “They can pull in feed wheat or corn from the Ukraine very easily. India has a shipping advantage to supply corn, and they can get wheat out of Australia. So it’s very competitive.

“The good thing is that grain is going to get used, and if it’s not U.S. origin, it will still create a draw elsewhere in the world where we do have an advantage,” he says. “The U.S. won’t monopolize this market, but it’s ultimately about using world grain stocks – and we’re always going to be a big part of that.”

Yusupov sums up Southeast Asia’s potential. “It’s a younger population than China, and the economy has demonstrated spectacular growth. The region is more dependent on imports of raw materials like corn, soybean meal, dried distillers grains and other feedstuffs.

“The macro and micro economic fundamentals are reminiscent of conditions that the Asian Tigers (Japan, Korea and Taiwan) went through,” he says. “Lack of purchasing power has plagued Southeast Asia for decades but is now rapidly improving. For everyone in the ag export sector, demand-driven ASEAN is the market to watch for the next decade or two.”