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Agricultural Trade

World demand for U.S. agricultural crops and products strengthened last year as U.S. exports outpaced U.S. imports. 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 8.9 percent on average annually from 2000 to 2013 while imports increased by 8.1 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 in the past decade. These trends widened the U.S. agricultural trade surplus to $37.1 billion in 2013. Population growth, ethnic diversity, changing taste preferences, and high incomes are behind U.S. food import demand.
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Demand from developing countries, along with higher farm commodity prices, explains recent U.S. export growth. 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.
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More than 40 percent of U.S. agricultural imports are horticultural products—fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, wine, beer, essential oils, nursery stock, cut flowers, and hops. Sugar and tropical products such as coffee, cocoa, and rubber comprised 23 percent. Vegetable oils, processed grain products, red meat, and dairy products are the other major imports which have grown rapidly in recent years.
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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 28 percent. East Asia's combined share is now averaging 34 percent, with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong rank as the fourth through seventh largest purchasers of U.S. agricultural exports.
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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 nearly doubled from $13.1 billion in 2009 to $25.9 billion in 2013, which is $4.6 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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Although Canada and Mexico remain key suppliers, a major source of U.S. imports stems from Asia. Much of Asia's ascendance is due to higher prices 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 $102 billion to the United States annually on average in 2011-13, up sharply from $78 billion on average in 2008-10.
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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 2011, as was more than 50 percent of rice and 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 4.2 percent annually on average since 2000.
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Last updated: Tuesday, April 08, 2014

For more information contact: Alberto Jerardo

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