By Tim Leeds
A delegation from Taiwan on Thursday began a tour of Montana farms and businesses to see if trade opportunities are possible.
Mei Mei Wang of the Montana Trade Office in Taiwan said there are 14 delegates from major companies in Taiwan that are interested in marketing natural and organic foods.
State Sen. Jon Tester, who operates the first farm the group toured Thursday, said the tour went well.
"It's good, it has potential, I think," he said.
The schedule for the tours Thursday included Robert Boettcher's and Bob Quinn's farms and the Montana Flour & Grains mill in Choteau.
The tour moved to the Shelby area today, then will go on to the Kalispell area and into Missoula next week.
Wang said the trade delegates will be meeting with 20 companies and ag producers on the trip. The purpose is to show the trade delegates what a great environment Montana has to grow natural foods.
"We think there is great opportunity here," said Will Kissinger, administrator of the Agricultural Development Division of the Montana Department of Agriculture.
Kissinger hopes that some trade agreements with Montana companies and producers can come directly out of this tour.
Wang said there is already trade between Taiwan and Montana. David Oien, who farms in the Shelby area, supplies products like peas, black beans and lentils, which companies in Taiwan process into high-nutrition food to market there.
Wang added that there are other trade relationships ongoing in Montana with Taiwan. She said Timeless Seeds in Conrad is another exporter.
She said many producers don't have any expertise in dealing with exports and Customs, and one person or company will act as a broker for others to market their goods to Taiwan.
Wang added that working in a cooperative would be a great asset to producers who want to market overseas.
The effort to build trade relationships has gone on for several years, Wang said. Montana producers have made the trip to Taiwan to promote their products in the past few years.
She said there is a new emphasis on this trip. Before, the Trade Office focused on promoting natural and organic foods to smaller or medium-sized companies in Taiwan, which were looking for a unique niche to fill. This trip, she said, the representatives are mainly from larger companies.
Two of the companies represented are Makro and Dollars, which are chains of warehouse stores in Taiwan.
Wang said the fact that large companies are interested in Montana's organic and natural foods shows it is a trade evolving into a new major industry in Taiwan.
Tester said the delegates asked some excellent questions about his farm and farming methods. He added that the tour lasted about an hour, and the questions took up about 50 minutes of it.
Wang said huge differences exist between the farming in Montana and Taiwan. She added that the areas are totally different, with Taiwan having 22 million people living in a space one-tenth the size of Montana.
This trip is intended to stimulate more of a tourist trade with Taiwan as well, Wang said. She added that it is already a major business, with 25,000 tourists traveling to Montana from Taiwan a year.