The Changing Profile of U.S. Agricultural Trade


U.S. agricultural export estimates from USDA released in late May for fiscal year 2010 (October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010) showed total exports at $104.5 billion, up $4.5 billion from February estimates and up $7.9 billion from FY2009 exports of $96.6 billion. Exports to Asia are now estimated at $42.6 billion for FY2010, up from $37.8 billion in FY2009 and expected to surpass exports to the Western Hemisphere of $40.2 billion, up $1.9 billion from FY2009. Exports to China estimated at $14.0 billion for FY2010 are just behind Mexico at $14.1 billion.

Soybeans and products exports of $21.2 billion are the largest single commodity export at 20.3 percent of the total value of exports. The next largest is corn at $9.0 billion and 8.6 percent of total exports. The volume of corn exports is down one million metric tons (MMT) from the February estimate at 49 MMT despite the recently announced exports to China. New crop Argentine corn is providing strong competition. Soybean and products exports are up 2.6 MMT from the February estimates at a record 51.3 MMT. China accounts for much of the increase in soybean exports as harvest was delayed for the large South American crop and buying from the U.S. continued even after that crop became available. Soybean meal export sales have been strong in Asia and Europe replacing some Indian sales. Distillers dried grains from ethanol production have been become a large feed export product to Canada, Mexico and China.

The estimate of the value of cotton exports at $4.6 billion was up $0.6 billion over February’s estimate and $1.0 billion above FY2009 due to high prices while volume was up only 0.1 million tons from February and still down 0.1 million tons from last year. India has been out of the market because of high domestic prices, Chinese purchases have been higher and U.S. carryover supplies have shrunk to low levels forcing world market prices higher. Cotton is one of the few crops where market prices are clearly higher than a year earlier and fully reflected in export values.

The export volume for major bulk commodities (wheat, rice, coarse grains, soybeans, cotton and unmanufactured tobacco) was estimated at 123.6 MMT for FY2010, up from 115.7 MMT in FY2009. Volume is still well short of the FY2008 record of 138.9 MMT, but in line with FY2007 exports of 125.4 MMT and FY2006 of 120.7 MMT. Wheat and corn exports are down from FY2006 and FY2007 levels while soybeans and products and cotton are up.

The volume of beef, pork and chicken meat exports was estimated at 5.60 MMT, down from 5.85 MMT in FY2009 and the record of 5.96 MMT in FY2008, but well above exports of 4.14 MMT in FY2006 and 4.53 MMT in FY2007. Some of the recent strength reflects the return of beef exports after the discovery of BSE in December 2003. On a value basis, beef and veal exports are estimated at $3.0 billion for FY2010, up from $2.6 billion in FY2009, and pork is estimated at $4.1 billion, up $3.7 billion from FY2009. Chicken meat exports are estimated at $3.0 billion, down from $3.4 billion in FY2009, but up from $2.7 billion in the February estimate as export prices have been stronger than anticipated earlier.

Horticultural products, including fruits, vegetables, juices and nuts, continue their solid growth in value of exports at $22.5 billion for FY2010. That is up from $20.6 billion in FY2009, $20.8 billion in FY2008, $18.0 billion in FY2007 and $16.8 billion in FY2006. Except for the slight decline in FY2009, horticultural products have not had a decline in the last ten years and the value of exports has more than doubled from $10.5 billion in FY2000. They now account for 21.5 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports. Fresh fruit and vegetable exports for FY2010 are estimated at $5.9 billion, while processed fruits and vegetables are estimated at $5.8 billion and tree nuts at $4.2 billion, with strong shipments to Hong Kong and China.

U.S. agricultural exports to Asia and the Western Hemisphere have been about equal in value for the last three years. China’s increase in imports from $11.2 billion in FY2009 to an estimated $14.0 billion in FY2010 is the key growth that made Asia the largest region. Asia is divided into three sub-regions of East Asia at $34.8 billion, Southeast Asia at $6.5 billion and South Asia at $1.3 billion. China at $14.0 billion in imports and Japan at $11.2 billion are the largest markets in East Asia, with Japan a stable market. South Korea is a growing market at $4.4 billion followed by Taiwan at $3.2 billion. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia is the largest market at $1.9 billion and purchasing more soybean meal, wheat and feeds, with a great market potential with a population of 243 million. The next largest market is the Philippines at $1.5 billion. South Asia is dominated by India and Pakistan, but neither has yet developed as a major market for U.S. agriculture.

The Western Hemisphere remains a major market at $40.2 billion, led by Canada with an estimated $16.4 billion in imports from the U.S. followed by Mexico at $14.1 billion. Canada is a mature market and its relatively northern climate makes it a major market for horticultural products. Mexico continues to have room for growth with a population of 112 million. The Caribbean at $3.2 billion and Central America at $2.8 billion remain markets for a wide range of U.S. products. The South American market of $3.7 billion is led by Venezuela at $1.0 billion and Columbia at $0.9 billion. With a population of 44 million, Columbia could become a larger market if the U.S.-Columbia Free Trade Agreement is approved by Congress.

The European Union remains a significant market estimated at $8.3 billion in FY2010, up from $7.6 billion in FY2009, with larger shipments of soybeans and soybean meal. The Middle East/North Africa region with exports estimated at $7.6 billion in FY2010, up from $7.0 billion in FY2009, should be a growing long-term market with larger populations and incomes and limited arable land. The three largest markets for U.S. exports in the region for FY2010 are Turkey at $1.7 billion, Egypt $1.5 billion and Saudi Arabia at $0.7 billion.

U.S. exports have reversed the sharp slowdown in FY2009. Bulk exports have recovered and gains in meats and horticultural products have resumed. Regional diversification should position the U.S. for continued growth.

Ross Korves

Ross Korves

Ross Korves served Truth about Trade & Technology, before it became Global Farmer Network, from 2004 – 2015 as the Economic and Trade Policy Analyst.

Researching and analyzing economic issues important to agricultural producers, Ross provided an intimate understanding regarding the interface of economic policy analysis and the political process.

Mr. Korves served the American Farm Bureau Federation as an Economist from 1980-2004. He served as Chief Economist from April 2001 through September 2003 and held the title of Senior Economist from September 2003 through August 2004.

Born and raised on a southern Illinois hog farm and educated at Southern Illinois University, Ross holds a Masters Degree in Agribusiness Economics. His studies and research expanded internationally through his work in Germany as a 1984 McCloy Agricultural Fellow and study travel to Japan in 1982, Zambia and Kenya in 1985 and Germany in 1987.

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