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U.S. eyes Middle East soy market

Prior to the political unrest in 2011, the U.S. was exporting about 18 million bushels of soybeans to Syria. Most of the exports were whole soybeans, with small amounts of meal. That all changed, however, with The Arab Spring.

The situation prompted leaders of the soy checkoff and the American Soybean Association to meet in Amman, Jordan, Thursday with regional soy trade leaders, to discuss future opportunities for resuming trade.

Soy checkoff farmer-leader Scott Singlestad, Waseca, Minnesota, and American Soybean Association chair, Steve Wellman, Syracuse, Nebraska, took the lead in roundtable discussions focusing on Middle Eastern and North African customers.

"We talked about civil unrest and disruptions to the market, and how we could help our customers," Wellman said. "Some countries have sanctions against them. Some crush facilities are idled. It was optimistic to hear regional industry leaders, particularly poultry producers, talk about their need for soy products. The demand for poultry is driving the demand for whole soy. There's still demand here, and we want to be a supplier to the marketplace."

Egypt is the sixth largest U.S. soy customer, with Morocco at number 5 for meal, and number 1 for soybean oil. Egypt still remains a strong customer at $370 million in whole soy products.

During their visit to the Mediterranean region, Singlestad and Wellman attended the dedication of the U.S. Soybean Export Council's office in Dubai. Wellman says the situation may require shipping through different ports. "Dubai has a crushing plant for canola, and we see an opportunity to get soybeans crushed here, and then into meal and the oil markets," he says. "Disruption of ports in Syria may mean we have to ship exports to Lebanon. Its ports aren't as large, and there are logistical issues. Or, we could ship to Dubai, or Alexandria, Egypt, and process there, or move to another country for processing. We have to try a combination of things to improve logistics."

He said the global demand for soy has increased by 150% since 1990. "It's been driven by population increases and increased income," he said. 'If you look at projected population growth from 2000 to 2030, there's a 53% projected population growth in India, Africa, and the region between 2000 and 2030."

Singlestad agreed. "The region has issues," he said. "We'd like to work with private firms and companies to find expanded uses for soy and encourage the use of U.S. soybeans in human diets and for animals."

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