Agricultural Trade

World demand for U.S. agricultural crops and products strengthened last year as U.S. exports outpaced U.S. imports. The growth of high-value U.S. exports, such as consumer-oriented and processed products, outpaced bulk-commodity exports over the past decade. The leading U.S. exports are grains and feeds, soybeans, livestock products, and horticultural products. The largest U.S. imports are horticultural and tropical products.

Exports grew by 8 percent on average annually from 2000 to 2014 while imports increased by 7.8 percent. Rising global demand, primarily in developing country markets, along with the dollar's competitive exchange rate helped U.S. exports grow faster than imports on average during the past decade. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade surplus widened to $38.8 billion in 2014. Population growth, ethnic diversity, changing taste preferences, and high incomes are behind U.S. food import demand. (U.S. agricultural exports are forecast to decline in 2015, however, as a result of lower exports of high-value products and low prices for bulk commodities.)
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Demand from developing countries, along with higher farm commodity prices, explains recent growth in the value of U.S. exports. Foreign demand for wheat, soybeans, cotton, corn and their processed products accounts for about half of U.S. export value. U.S. farm exports to developing countries are now more than double what are exported to developed countries. Purchases by developing countries consistently have been greater than developed countries since 1994. Another shift in U.S. exports has been its changing composition. Since 2008, the share of high-value consumer products has climbed from 37 to 45 percent, while the share of bulk commodities has declined from 45 to 36 percent.
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More than 40 percent of U.S. agricultural imports are horticultural products—fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, wine, essential oils, nursery stock, cut flowers, and hops. Sugar and tropical products such as coffee, cocoa, and rubber comprised 21 percent. Vegetable oils, processed grain products, red meat, and dairy products are the other major imports which have grown significantly in recent years.
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The large expansion of trade with China explains why it is now the No. 1 destination for U.S. agricultural exports. U.S. farm exports to China more than doubled from $12.1 billion in 2008 to $24.6 billion in 2014, which is $2.7 billion more than exports to Canada, the second largest market. Canada—which held the top spot for most of the 2000s—and Mexico continue as strong markets. Japan—the top destination for U.S. exports in the 1990s—has slipped to fourth place after Mexico.
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China's strong demand for soybeans, wheat, corn, other feeds, cotton, cattle hides, tree nuts, and other horticulture products are behind this recent surge. Nevertheless, the combined Canadian and Mexican share of U.S. exports remains strong at around 22 percent. East Asia's combined share is now 35 percent, with Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan ranked as the fourth through seventh largest purchasers of U.S. agricultural exports. 
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While Canada and Mexico remain key suppliers, Asia has also emerged as a major source of U.S. imports. Much of Asia's ascendance is due to strong U.S. demand for tropical oils (coconut and palm), natural rubber, coffee, and horticultural products. The large and wealthy U.S. market continues to attract foreign food and beverage suppliers, who exported $106 billion to the United States annually on average in 2012-14, up sharply from $84 billion on average in 2009-11.
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Exports account for a large share of the total volume of U.S. production for select product categories. For example, more than 70 percent of the volume of U.S. production of tree nuts (largely almonds) and cotton were exported in 2012, as was more than 50 percent of rice and 45 percent of wheat production. Overall, the export share of U.S. agricultural production was 20 percent based on volume, the average since 2000.
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The wide variety of foods available in the American diet include many high-value imported products such as wines, premium coffee beans, cocoa/chocolate, virgin olive oil, cherries, avocados, seafood/fish, fruits/fruit juices, vegetables, and spices, among other products. As high U.S. incomes drive consumption, the volume of U.S. agricultural imports has increased by 4 percent annually on average since 2000.
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Last updated: Monday, April 06, 2015

For more information contact: Alberto Jerardo

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