U.S. Agricultural Trade with Financial Markets in Turmoil


The financial market turmoil in the U.S. and most other developed countries will have a significant impact on U.S. agricultural exports and imports in dollar terms, but much less in volume. The relative levels of exports by commodity and country are likely to be little changed from the forecast released by USDA in late August for fiscal year (FY) 2009 that began on October 1.

In August USDA was expecting declines in the volume of U.S. exports due to larger supplies in the rest of the world. Wheat and corn exports volumes were forecast to each be down 18 percent because of larger wheat crops, particularly in the EU. Soybean exports were to be down by 13 percent with soybean oil down 16 percent and meal down 7 percent. Meat export volumes were forecast to be steady, except for poultry meat. Cotton export volumes were to be up 10 percent.

Total U.S. agricultural exports for FY 2009 were forecast at $113 billion, down $1 billion from the record FY 2008 level. The Western Hemisphere is the largest regional market at $44.8 billion. Canada and Mexico make up about three-fourths of that market at $17.8 billion and $17.1 billion, respectively. Their economic situations and demand will be greatly influenced by U.S. economic activity. The one exception is Canada’s petroleum industry that will be driven by world petroleum prices. The Caribbean area is a $3.0 billion market followed by Central America at $2.7 billion. These countries will also be influenced by conditions in the U.S. The largest South American market is Columbia at $1.5 billion.

The Asia region is expected to be a $42.6 billion market for U.S. agricultural exports. Japan at $12.7 billion and China at $12.4 billion are the leading markets. Japan is a diversified market, while soybeans account for over half of China’s U.S. imports followed by cotton, hides and recently poultry meat and pork. Japan is a stable market that has weathered other economic downturns. China has $1 trillion of foreign currency reserves and politically needs to import soybeans to crush for vegetable oil for human consumption and soybean meal as feed for hogs and chickens to maintain meat supplies. South Korea at $5.3 billion and Taiwan at $3.7 billion are markets that depend on imports and have consumer incomes that will likely maintain purchasing power. Developing countries like Indonesia at $2.1 billion, the Philippines at $1.6 billion and Thailand at $1.1 billion may be more vulnerable to a slowdown in demand for exports to industrial countries.

The Europe/Eurasia market at $12.5 billion is dominated by the EU at $10.0 billion and Russia at $1.5 billion. The EU appears to have as many financial problems as the U.S., but is a mature market that will be only marginally affected. Russia is a much largely unknown because its stock market has crashed, and it has relied on high petroleum prices to fuel the economy in recent years. For the first ten months of FY 2008, Russia’s U.S. agricultural imports of $1.5 billion were dominated by poultry meat at $736 million and red meat at $345 million. For several months Russia has been talking about importing less meat.

The Middle East market for U.S. agricultural exports is estimated at $5.5 billion that should be only minimally impacted by the financial crisis unless petroleum prices continue to decline. Egypt at $2.2 billion is half of North Africa’s $4.1 billion market and will be impacted by slower world markets as will the $2.1 billion Sub-Saharan Africa market. For the first ten months of FY 2008 Egypt’s U.S. agricultural imports of $1.8 billion were led by wheat at $560 million, corn at $529 million and soybeans at $351 million.

U.S. agricultural imports were forecast in late August at $83 billion in FY 2009, up $4 billion from FY 2008, with over half of that, $43.8 billion, coming from the Western Hemisphere. Canada is the leader at $19.0 billion, followed by Mexico at $11.0 billion, Central America at $3.7 billion, Brazil at $2.8 billion, Chile at 2.0 billion and Columbia $1.8 billion. The dollar values will be lower, but the quantities will likely be unchanged. Imports from the EU are forecast at $16.7 billion and could be a little stronger on a volume basis if other import markets slow more than the U.S. market. Asian imports to the U.S. were forecast at $14.7 billion led by China at $3.6 billion, Indonesia at $2.7 billion and Thailand at $1.9 billion. Australia and New Zealand were forecast to export a total of $4.5 billion of products to the U.S.

A sharp turn toward protectionist policies to shut out U.S. products is not likely to happen with the possible exception of Russia which is not a member of the WTO. WTO members have bound upper limits on tariffs, and many countries have sharply lowered applied tariffs on food in recent years to reduce costs for consumers. Vietnam has recently announced higher import tariffs on meat to protect domestic producers. A new WTO agreement with lower bound tariffs would be useful. Major importers of U.S. products have developed food supply chains that use U.S. products on a regular basis and cannot afford to remove products. Importers will also benefit from freight rates which are down sharply from summer highs and approaching two year lows. The stronger U.S. dollar will increase import prices in some markets.

Global supply chains have been tested the last two years by high commodity prices; now they will be tested by financial upheavals and slower demand. While the export numbers are hopeful, U.S. agriculture should not be complacent. Most developed and developing countries could cut imports more if economic conditions require those reductions. Integrated supply chains can be undone. Also, carryover supplies of grains and oilseeds continue to be minimal and lower than expected harvests in the Southern Hemisphere could provide some support for market prices.

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.

Leave a Reply