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.
Total U.S. agricultural trade rose to record levels in 2021. U.S. agricultural exports were valued at $177 billion in 2021, an 18 percent increase relative to 2020. Imports grew by almost 17 percent in 2021 to $171 billion. While the United States typically exports more agricultural goods by value than it imports, from 2012–21, imports grew more rapidly than exports (driven in part by strong domestic economic growth and consumer preferences for year-round produce selections).
The value of U.S. agricultural exports increased in 2021, driven by gains across all major commodity groups. As a share of total export value, the top 4 categories equally accounted for about 90 percent of total exports between 2017 and 2021. These categories include grains and feeds; oilseeds and products; animals (e.g. livestock and poultry), meats, and products; and horticultural products. The grains and feeds category recorded the largest year-to-year growth, increasing 40 percent from 2020 to $43 billion in 2021. The animals, meats, and products category followed this growth, growing 22 percent from 2020 to $39 billion in 2021.
50 percent of U.S. agricultural imports are horticultural products: fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, wine, essential oils, nursery stock, cut flowers, and hops. Sugar and tropical products such as coffee, cocoa, and rubber comprised just under 18 percent of agricultural imports in 2015. Imports of vegetable oils, processed grain products, red meat, and dairy products have grown significantly in recent years.
The top 5 U.S. agricultural trading partners accounted for 61 percent of U.S. agricultural exports in 2021
China was the largest market for U.S. agricultural exports in 2021, followed by Canada and Mexico. Exports to China grew 25 percent between 2020 and 2021, growing significantly following trade disputes between the United States and China that led to a steep reduction in oilseed exports (among other commodities) in 2018. Japan and the European Union are also among the top five agricultural trading partners with the United States. While their shares of U.S. exports have decreased since 2001, they remain the fourth and fifth largest export markets. The top five U.S. agricultural trading partners accounted for 61 percent of U.S. agricultural exports in 2021.
Canada and Mexico remain the United States' largest suppliers of agricultural products ($22.2 billion and $19.3 billion in 2013-15 respectively), mostly consumer-oriented goods such as horticultural products, red meats, and snack foods. The European Union is a close third, accounting for $18.9 billion worth of U.S. agricultural imports in 2013-15, with horticultural products accounting for more than half the value. South America--led by Brazil, Chile, and Colombia--averaged $13.7 billion in U.S. imports over the past 3 years, consisting largely of horticultural, sugar, and tropical products in which it has a comparative or seasonal advantage.
From 2013 to 2015, East Asia and North America combined to account for about 62 percent of U.S. agricultural exports. East Asia--led by China, Japan, and South Korea--was the largest market, with a collective 34-percent share. The share of U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico has increased and accounted for 28 percent of world exports over the last 3 years. The European Union is the third largest regional destination, followed closely by Southeast Asia (led by the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia). Meanwhile, South America is a shrinking market, with the noticeable exception of Colombia.
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. The overall export share of U.S. agricultural production in 2021 was 20 percent, the level of which has remained relatively constant since 2001.
U.S. consumers rely heavily on imports for certain products where demand far outweighs domestic production capacity. Over 95 percent of coffee/cocoa/spices and fish/shellfish products consumed in the United States are imported, as are about half of fresh fruits and fruit juices and almost a third of wine and sugar. As high U.S. incomes drive consumption, the volume of U.S. agricultural imports has increased by 4 percent annually, on average, since 2000.