Agricultural Trade

The leading U.S. agricultural exports are grains and feeds, soybeans, livestock products, tree nuts, fruits, vegetables, and other horticultural products. The leading U.S. imports are horticultural and tropical products. Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and East Asia are major U.S. trade partners.


U.S. agricultural import values outpaced export values in fiscal year 2023

The United States typically exports more agricultural goods by value than it imports, but the value of imports has grown more rapidly than exports over the past decade, contributing to a negative trade balance in some years. From fiscal years 2013 to 2023, U.S. agricultural exports expanded at a compound annual growth rate of 2.1 percent. During that same time, U.S. agricultural imports increased by 5.8 percent. The robust increase in U.S. demand for imports has been largely driven by the strong U.S. dollar and consumer preferences for year-round produce selections. The resulting agricultural trade balance was negative in 3 of the past 10 fiscal years.

U.S. agricultural export values peaked in fiscal year 2022 before declining in 2023

The value of U.S. agricultural exports, not adjusting for inflation, peaked in fiscal year 2022 before declining in 2023. Total exports were valued at $178.7 billion in 2023, a $17 billion decrease from 2022. Four categories typically accounted for about 90 percent of total agricultural exports. These categories include grains and feeds; oilseeds and products; animals (e.g. livestock and poultry), meats, and products; and horticultural products. Although the decrease in export value in 2023 came from a wide breadth of commodities, grains and animal exports were the source of much of the reduction—particularly from lower export values of corn, wheat, sorghum, and beef. Global commodity prices receding from the highs of 2022, were one of the main drivers of the broad decrease in export values.

Horticultural products drive total U.S. agricultural import growth

The value of U.S. agricultural imports grew by a compounded annual growth rate of 5.8 percent from fiscal years 2013 to 2023. In most years, at least half the value of U.S. agricultural imports was in horticultural products—a broad category including fruits, vegetables, spirits, wine, essential oils, tree nuts, and nursery stock. Growth in demand for horticultural products has been driven by consumer desire for a year-round supply, changing consumer preferences, and foreign production that is increasingly competitive with domestically grown produce. Moreover, tariff- and quota-free import access under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and later the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), also supported consumer demand. From 2022 to 2023, however, the import value of horticultural products decreased slightly, mostly because of receding global prices and reduced imports of alcoholic beverages. However, higher imports of vegetable oils and grain products (under the oilseeds and the grains categories) more than offset that decrease, supporting overall import growth in 2023 of about 1 percent.

The top 5 U.S. agricultural trading partners accounted for 64 percent of U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2023

The top 5 markets for U.S. agricultural exports accounted for 64 percent of the total value of U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2023. Exports to China were the largest share at $33.7 billion, followed by Mexico at $28.2 billion and Canada at $27.9 billion. The European Union trailed behind these numbers at $12.3 billion, slightly overtaking Japan at $12.2 billion. Since 2001, the nominal value of agricultural exports to these five U.S. trading partners increased annually by a compounded growth rate of 2.7 percent. From 2022 to 2023, the value of U.S. agricultural exports decreased to these markets, with the exception of Mexico.

Canada and the European Union are the two largest suppliers of U.S. agricultural imports, followed by Mexico

Canada and Mexico are the United States' first and third largest suppliers of agricultural products (averaging $30.9 billion and $25.5 billion in 2017–21, respectively). Mexico supplied the United States with 31 percent of imported horticultural products including fruit, vegetables, and alcoholic beverages. Canada is also a source of horticultural products, as well as grains, and meats. The European Union is the second largest import source, accounting for $28.0 billion worth of U.S. agricultural imports in 2017–21, with horticultural products such as wine, spirits, and essential oils accounting for more than 60 percent the value. South America (led by Brazil, Chile, and Colombia) averaged $15.6 billion in U.S. imports from 2017–21, consisting largely of horticultural, sugar, and tropical products in which the region has a comparative or seasonal advantage.

East Asia and North America remain top regions for U.S. agricultural exports

From 2017 to 2021, East Asia and North America combined to account for 60 percent of U.S. agricultural exports. East Asia (led by China, Japan, and South Korea) was the largest market, with a collective 31 percent share. The top three commodity groups exported to East Asia include oilseeds, grains, and meats. The share of U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico has increased and accounted for 28 percent of world exports over the 5 years from 2017–21. Southeast Asia (led by the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia) is the third largest regional destination, followed closely by the European Union.

Exports expand the market for U.S. agricultural products

The share of U.S. agricultural and food production sold outside the country indicates the level of these sectors’ dependence on foreign markets. The commodities with the highest export share (whose export shares account for 40 percent or more of their total market value) include fruits and tree nuts, oilseeds, and food grains such as rice and wheat. The United States tends to export a higher share of non-manufactured products than manufactured products. Non-manufactured products include food grains such as rice and wheat, oilseeds—and tree nuts such as almonds. The United States exports a lower share of manufactured products—such as sweeteners, bakery products, and dairy products. Since 2008, the overall export share of U.S. agricultural production has remained relatively constant at approximately 20 percent.

U.S. consumer preference for high-value products is reflected in imports

The U.S. share of agricultural consumption sourced from imports tends to be higher for higher-value agricultural product groups. This higher share is due to numerous factors—including the relative competitiveness in production, seasonal availability, consumer preferences, and others. Sweeteners, and processed sugar, and confections are groups of products where the United States is reliant on imports. Fruits, nuts, and vegetables are also frequently imported. The United States tends to have a lower reliance on imports for unprocessed commodities such as feed grains, livestock, and oilseeds. The total import share of consumption across all food and beverages between 2011 and 2021 was 15 percent, steadily growing over the period.

Last updated: Friday, February 16, 2024

For more information, contact: James Kaufman