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 trade rose to record levels in 2021

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).

U.S. agricultural export value increased to record high in 2021

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.

Horticultural products drive total U.S. agricultural import growth

The value of U.S. agricultural imports grew by 17 percent in 2021 from 2020, with gains in all major commodity groups. Fifty-two percent of U.S. agricultural imports in 2021 were horticultural products, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, wine, spirits, essential oils, and nursery stock. Sugar and tropical products, such as coffee and cocoa, comprised 15 percent of agricultural imports in 2021. Other product groups—such as oilseeds, grains and feeds, and livestock and meats—also contributed to import growth from 2001 to 2021.

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 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 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. 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: Monday, May 08, 2023

For more information, contact: Dylan Russell