Agricultural Trade

The value of U.S. agricultural exports declined in 2015, particularly among major bulk exports. Meanwhile, U.S. imports grew, but at a slower pace than in previous years. The leading U.S. exports are grains/feeds, soybeans, livestock products, and horticultural products. The largest U.S. imports are horticultural and tropical products.

After 5 years of steady growth, U.S. agricultural exports declined in 2015 to $133 billion due to slower world economic growth, a strong U.S. dollar, lower exports of high-value products, and falling prices for bulk commodities. U.S. imports continued to grow at 2 percent in 2015 as the real exchange rate has made foreign goods cheaper in the U.S. domestic market.  However, import gains were well below the 7-percent average for 2000-15, reflecting slower growth in global trade volume last year.  These shifts in U.S. agricultural trade produced a trade surplus in 2015 about half of its 2014 value at $19.5 billion.
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The value of U.S. agricultural exports declined in 2015, reversing 5 consecutive years of export growth.  Since 2000, developing countries—led by China—had been the main drivers of U.S. export gains.  Horticultural exports were the only product group to grow in 2015, up about $266 million, which increased its share of total U.S. agricultural exports to about 25 percent.  In fact, horticultural products became the largest share of any group, surpassing livestock products, grains/feeds, and oilseed/products, which had combined losses in 2015 that accounted for nearly all of the decreases in export values.
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Over 44 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 just over 20 percent of agricultural imports in 2015. Imports of vegetable oils, processed grain products, red meat, and dairy products have grown significantly in recent years.
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Over the past 10 years, U.S. agricultural exports to China have grown over 13 percent annually on average.  However, exports to China peaked in 2012 at $25.9 billion, then remained steady for 2 years before dropping by over $4 billion in 2015.  Meanwhile, U.S. exports to Canada have been relatively stable, restoring Canada as the largest destination for U.S. agricultural products in 2015.  The next largest markets are Mexico, the European Union, and Japan, all longstanding destinations for U.S. agricultural commodities.
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From 2013 to 2015, East Asia and North America combined to account for about 62 percent of U.S. agricultural exports.  East Asia—led by China, Japan, and South Korea—was the largest market, with a collective 34-percent share. The share of U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico has increased and accounted for 28 percent of world exports over the last 3 years. The European Union is the third largest regional destination, followed closely by Southeast Asia (led by the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia).  Meanwhile, South America is a shrinking market, with the noticeable exception of Colombia.
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Canada and Mexico remain the United States’ largest suppliers of agricultural products ($22.2 billion and $19.3 billion in 2013-15 respectively), mostly consumer-oriented goods such as horticultural products, red meats, and snack foods. The European Union is a close third, accounting for $18.9 billion worth of U.S. agricultural imports in 2013-15, with horticultural products accounting for more than half the value.  South America—led by Brazil, Chile, and Colombia—averaged $13.7 billion in U.S. imports over the past 3 years, consisting largely of horticultural, sugar, and tropical products in which it has a comparative or seasonal advantage.
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Exports account for a large share of the total volume of U.S. production for select agricultural products.  For example, over 70 percent of the volume of U.S. production of tree nuts (largely almonds) and cotton were exported in 2011-13, as was more than 50 percent of rice and wheat production. Overall, the export share of U.S. agricultural production averaged 20 percent from 2011 to 2013 based on volume, the same average annual share since 2000.
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U.S. consumers rely heavily on imports for certain products where demand far outweighs domestic production capacity. Over 95 percent of coffee/cocoa/spices and fish/shellfish products consumed in the United States are imported, as are about half of fresh fruits and fruit juices and almost a third of wine and sugar. 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 11, 2016

For more information contact: Bryce Cooke

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