U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year (FY) 2006, the year that ended on September 30, were a record $68.7 billion, an increase of 9.9 percent over 2005. Imports increased by 10.9 percent to a record $64.0 billion. U.S. agricultural exports and imports reflect that the U.S. is part of a world-wide food system as markets respond to consumers’ demands for food and other agricultural products.

The Foreign Agricultural Service of USDA categorizes exports and imports into bulk, intermediate and consumer oriented. Bulk commodities include unprocessed grains, oilseeds and tobacco. Intermediate products are processed products like wheat flour, vegetable oils and meals, live animals, hides and skins and sweeteners. Consumer-oriented products include meat, poultry and dairy products, fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. For FY2006, bulk commodity exports were $25.7 billion, 37.4 percent of agricultural exports; intermediate product exports were $13.6 billion, 19.8 percent; and consumer-oriented products were $29.4 billion, 42.8 percent.

For the seven years of the 21st century, consumer-oriented exports have shown the most consistent growth, while bulk export values have been the most volatile. In FY2000, consumer-oriented exports were $21.5 billion, 42.3 percent of total agricultural exports. After a slight increase the next year and a slight decline the year after that, exports grew rapidly to the FY2006 total of $29.4 billion. Bulk exports in FY2000 were $18.6 billion, 36.6 percent of total exports. They peaked at $26.9 billion in FY2004 before falling in FY2005 and recovering some in FY2006. Based on the current higher market prices for grains and oil seeds, bulk export values in FY2007 should easily exceed the FY2004 level. Intermediate exports were $10.7 billion in FY2000, 21.1 percent of exports. They increased to $12.5 billion in FY2002, flattened out for a few years and increased to $13.6 billion for FY2006.

U.S. imports of agricultural products in FY2006 were mostly consumer-oriented products at $42.2 billion, 65.9 percent of total imports, basically unchanged from 66.1 percent in FY2000. Bulk imports were $8.9 billion in FY2006, 13.8 percent of the total, down from 16.2 percent in FY2000. The two largest increases over those years were rubber and allied products increasing from $852 million to $1.96 billion in FY2006, and raw sugar increasing from $446 million to $910 million, with most of that increase occurring last year. Intermediate product imports almost doubled over the six years from $6.9 billion in FY2000, 17.7 percent of agricultural imports, to $12.9 billion in FY2006, 20.1 percent of imports. Imports of tropical oils, essential oils and other vegetable oils increased from $1.7 billion to $5.1 billion; live animal imports increased from $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion; and sugars and sweeteners increased from $271 million to $997 million.

U.S. trade is concentrated in a few regions and countries. Most important are our NAFTA partners with agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico of $22.0 billion in FY2006, 32.0 percent of total exports, and imports of $22.5 billion, 35.2 percent of total imports. Central and South America plus the Caribbean had U.S. exports of $6.1 billion and imports to the U.S. of $11.2 billion. After NAFTA, the EU-25 is the largest exporter of agricultural products to the U.S. at $14.0 billion, with 67.6 percent being consumer oriented products. Beer and wine together account for $4.4 billion. U.S. exports to the EU-25 were $7.1 billion, led by tree nuts with $1.6 billion.

Asia as a region was the largest export market for U.S. agricultural products in FY2006 at $25.0 billion, 36.4 percent of total exports, and had exports to the U.S. of $9.4 billion. Japan was the largest market in Asia in FY2006 at $8.2 billion, 11.9 percent of total U.S. exports, with the four highest valued groupings being course grains at $2.0 billion, fruits, vegetables and tree nuts at $1.2 billion, red meats at $1.1 billion and soybeans at $865 million. U.S. exports to China in FY2006 were $6.7 billion, with $4.8 billion being bulk items led by soybeans at $2.4 billion and cotton at $2.3 billion. Hides and skins were the one intermediate product of note at $767 million. Agricultural imports from China were $2.1 billion with fruits, vegetables and juices the largest grouping at $850 million. Agricultural exports to Korea were $2.7 billion and imports from them were only $214 million.

Exports of some major U.S. agricultural products are concentrated in just a few countries. In FY2006, China took 49.6 percent of U.S. cotton exports; Turkey was the next largest at 10.9 percent. China also accounted for 38.0 percent of U.S. soybean exports, followed by Mexico at 13.9 percent and Japan at 12.6 percent. Japan’s U.S. corn imports were 29.4 percent of total U.S. exports, followed by Mexico at 12.0 percent and Korea 10.3 percent. U.S. wheat exports were evenly divided among the primary countries with Japan at 11.7 percent, Nigeria at 11.4 percent and Mexico at 9.5 percent.

After the NAFTA countries and the EU, the largest exporters of agricultural products to the U.S. were Australia at $2.4 billion, Brazil $2.2 billion and Indonesia $2.0 billion. Meat and animal products accounted for $1.4 billion of Australia’s exports followed by wine at $754 million. Brazil’s biggest exports to the U.S. were coffee at $563 million and meat and animal products at $418 million. Over half of Indonesia exports were rubber and allied products. Mexico and Chile were the largest exporters of fruit to the U.S. at $1.4 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively. The largest exporters of vegetables to the U.S. were Mexico at $3.2 billion and Canada at $1.7 billion.

Agricultural trade policy is not just about U.S. producers marketing to the rest of the world. U.S. consumers have also chosen to use the global food supply market to improve food variety and reduce costs.