A conversation with Alejandra Danielson Castillo

Alejandra Danielson Castillo is based in Singapore where she serves as the regional director for South Asia for the U.S. Grains Council.

Good afternoon, Alejandra. How did you end up in Singapore?

I was born in Nicaragua and I came up to the United States for university. I did both my undergraduate and my graduate degrees in management in Minnesota.

I worked for Cargill for about seven years across three different states within the grain, oilseeds and cotton business units and focused on trade execution before moving to the U.S. Grains Council, first as a manager for global trade, providing trade and market updates to our international offices and customers, and later joining their newly formed division for South Asia. I moved to Singapore in July 2019. The Council sees great opportunities for growth and market access for feed grains and biofuels in the South Asia region and especially India. As part of the Council’s commitment to the region, it is working to open a liaison office in Delhi, India to continue our engagements.

What does the U.S. Grains Council do?

The U.S. Grains Council is a non-profit organization that develops export markets for U.S. barley, corn, sorghum and related products including distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and ethanol. With full-time presence in 28 locations, the Council operates programs in more than 50 countries and the European Union. The Council believes exports are vital to global economic development and to U.S. agriculture’s profitability.

In a sense, we are the marketing branch for U.S. grain farmers, tasked with creating market opportunities, identifying markets where U.S agricultural commodities are both needed and competitive, and helping to address market issues that inhibit trade. Many U.S. farmers contribute to different commodities checkoff programs based on what they grow – some that are state-based and some that are national – that attempt to improve the market position of the covered commodity by expanding markets, increasing demand, and developing new uses and markets.

We work to promote knowledge and understanding of the U.S. system for production and exports. For example, we bring trade teams from different parts of the world to the United States to visit our farmers, our operations and our marketing system, our ports etc. We also bring U.S. farmers and other stakeholders to the markets we’re trying to service. This cross collaboration serves to increase awareness of the impact of trade in the daily lives of the farmers in the U.S. and across the globe.

Is your job getting harder now that the pendulum is swinging away from free trade in agriculture?

We do have headwinds on the trade side. We are seeing more tariffs and more trade disputes; they certainly create challenges for us when we are trying to bring U.S. agricultural products into certain markets.

The U.S. Grains Council has always been very vocal in its support for free trade. We believe free trade in agriculture is beneficial to U.S. farmers and to consumers in importing countries. We often say, “when trade works, the world wins.”

During these turbulent times we continue to promote free trade, and to create an understanding of the benefits free trade brings.

The silver lining is that it’s pushing us to more actively develop new markets.

Could you give an example?

We’re starting to see there’s a need and a market for U.S. commodities in Bangladesh, as well as a renewed interest among the importers in the country. I’ve gotten to know the top five importers in the country and have been working with them in improving their supply chain. Bangladesh is currently importing a good amount of DDGS.

Of course, these markets are not anywhere near the volumes we can see in, say, India or China, but they present a very strong value proposition for U.S. agriculture.

Are you optimistic about the prospects of U.S. exports to India?

I am very optimistic. India presents some challenges from a trade policy perspective as we currently don’t have access for DDGS or ethanol, but there’s been an increase in conversations between our two governments around a bilateral trade deal, especially after U.S. President Trump visited India in February 2019, and we remain hopeful a final resolution will be reached before the end of the year.

From a market perspective, we see an annual potential import demand within India for as much as 700,000 metric tonnes of DDGS. India is the third largest market for U.S. ethanol, with over 202 million gallons imported last year. The Council is working on developing a market for fuel ethanol in the country.

We’ve had many Indian trade teams come to the United States and visit farms and look at how our farmers work. It’s certainly been a very positive experience for me. It absolutely solidifies my feeling we’re doing something that is going to create a win-win scenario for everyone.

But it must be tough all the same…

Certainly, not every day is a great day, but there’s a lot of positivity around understanding a new market and opening it up for U.S. agriculture. I am personally very excited about South Asia. I am confident we can create value both for our farmers in the U.S. and for importing countries.

Thank you, Alejandra for your time and input!

Alejandra will be one of the speakers at the  International Grains Council virtual conference on Wednesday 10th June.

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