Agricultural Products

Author: Renee Berry
International Trade Analyst

Change in 2014 from 2013:

  To view changing data, mouseover the graphic below.
  • U.S. total exports: Increased by $7.2 billion (4.6 percent) to $164.8 billion
  • U.S. general imports: Increased by $9.5 billion (7.5 percent) to $136.2 billion

Total trade in agricultural products increased in 2014, with imports rising faster than exports. Much of the 4.6 percent increase in total exports in the U.S. agricultural sector can be attributed to record harvests of soybeans and corn—two of the leading U.S. agricultural products.1 Record-high corn production resulted in lower corn prices, which contributed to increased exports of ethanol. The value of U.S. exports of beef also rose, as strong demand from Asian markets (mostly for frozen cuts) supported high prices. At the same time, cotton exports declined, mainly owing to weaker demand in China, a major market for U.S. cotton.

The U.S. import increase was driven by higher imports of cattle and beef, shrimp, and soybeans. Demand for imported beef for processing was high because of low domestic supplies, resulting in increased imports of both live cattle for processing and beef. Meanwhile, shrimp prices remained relatively high, but demand was strong, resulting in higher import values. The United States imported soybeans in large volumes in the first half of the year, before the record U.S. crop was harvested. Corn and ethanol imports, by contrast, declined. This was because of ample domestic supplies, relatively low prices, and, in the case of ethanol, policy factors as described below.

Trade with Canada and Mexico, the United States’ partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), continued to account for a large share of U.S. trade in agricultural products. In 2014, NAFTA trade accounted for 27.1 percent of U.S. agricultural exports and 34.9 percent of U.S. agricultural imports. Agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico rose 2.5 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively, while imports from Canada and Mexico rose 5.8 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively (table AG.1). On a product-specific basis, increased exports to Canada were primarily ethanol, while increased exports to Mexico were primarily corn and soybeans.2 The largest increases in imports from Canada were in live cattle, beef, and pork, while beer and fruit were the main drivers of the increase in imports from Mexico.3

Table AG.1: Agricultural products: U.S. exports and general imports, by selected trading partners, 2010–14
Million $
Absolute change,
Percent change,
U.S. exports of domestic exports merchandise:              
Canada 18,051 20,692 22,346 23,138 23,710 572 2.5
Mexico 14,604 18,411 18,986 18,271 19,498 1,227 6.7
China 18,274 20,130 27,162 26,795 26,016 -779 -2.9
Japan 12,899 15,283 14,603 13,263 14,258 995 7.5
South Korea 5,625 7,380 6,510 5,804 7,471 1,667 28.7
Indonesia 2,214 2,799 2,488 2,806 2,921 115 4.1
Brazil 565 1,872 693 1,944 1,618 -326 -16.8
Italy 938 1,146 996 1,373 1,440 66 4.8
Vietnam 1,386 1,750 1,747 2,272 2,550 278 12.2
India 795 733 865 892 1,108 216 24.2
All other 46,137 55,659 52,960 55,787 58,578 2,791 5.0
Total domestic exports 121,488 145,855 149,357 152,345 159,167 6,822 4.5
Re-exports 4,010 4,606 4,773 5,310 5,681 370 7
Total U.S. exports (domestic exports and re-exports) 125,498 150,461 154,130 157,655 164,848 7,192 4.6
U.S. general imports:              
Canada 19,015 21,899 23,214 24,935 26,370 1,435 5.8
Mexico 14,748 17,155 17,752 19,296 21,194 1,898 9.8
China 5,665 6,514 7,063 6,989 7,008 19 0.3
Japan 717 762 787 763 782 19 2.5
South Korea 451 517 555 638 671 33 5.2
Indonesia 2,145 2,498 2,511 2,795 3,561 766 27.4
Brazil 3,212 4,669 5,078 4,646 4,406 -240 -5.2
Italy 3,312 3,789 3,933 4,231 4,503 272 6.4
Vietnam 1,785 2,267 2,425 2,765 3,364 599 21.7
India 1,806 3,107 5,793 4,455 4,440 -15 -0.3
All other 45,362 53,198 54,213 55,165 59,884 4,718 8.6
Total general imports 98,218 116,374 123,323 126,678 136,184 9,506 7.5
Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce for the 2010–14 period. These reflect all official revisions of previously published data up to June 2014 (accessed April 21, 2015).
Note: Import values are based on Customs value; export values are based on free along ship value, U.S. port of export. Calculations based on unrounded data. The trading partners shown are those with the largest total U.S. trade (U.S. general imports plus U.S. domestic exports) in these products in the current year. Re-exports (also called foreign exports) are further defined in the “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs) and in “Trade Metrics” discussion.

U.S. Exports4

Increases in U.S. agricultural exports were driven by higher exports of oilseeds (up 12.1 percent to $24.6 billion) and cereals (up 12.7 percent to $22.4 billion) (table AG.2). Soybean and corn exports drove these shifts, growing in both value and volume. The increase in exports was largely because of higher U.S. supply, following record harvests in 2014 in response to favorable weather and high yields throughout the major growing areas.5

Table AG.2: Agricultural products: Leading changes in U.S. domestic exports and general imports, 2010–14
Million $
Absolute change,
Percent change,
U.S. domestic exports:              
Oilseeds (AG032)  18,996 17,932 24,945 21,901 24,553 2,653 12.1
Cereals (AG030)  19,882 28,135 20,338 19,855 22,385 2,530 12.7
Cattle and beef (AG002)  3,875 5,224 5,625 6,104 6,843 739 12.1
Ethyl alcohol for nonbeverage purposes (AG050)  874 3,265 1,901 1,555 2,062 508 32.7
Cotton, not carded or combed (AG049)  5,734 8,386 6,225 5,591 4,395 -1,195 -21.4
All other 72,128 82,914 90,322 97,340 98,927 1,587 1.6
Total 121,488 145,855 149,357 152,345 159,167 6,822 4.5
U.S. general imports:              
Cattle and beef (AG002)  4,315 4,457 5,353 5,417 8,057 2,640 48.7
Shellfish (AG009)  7,478 8,708 8,059 9,153 10,918 1,765 19.3
Oilseeds (AG032)  647 871 843 1,421 2,052 631 44.4
Ethyl alcohol for nonbeverage purposes (AG050)  326 903 1,839 1,415 620 -795 -56.2
Cereals (AG030)  1,610 1,934 2,670 3,416 2,834 -582 -17.1
All other 83,842 99,502 104,559 105,857 111,703 5,846 5.5
Total 98,218 116,374 123,323 126,678 136,184 9,506 7.5
Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce for the 2010–14 period. These reflect all official revisions of previously published data up to June 2014 (accessed March 27, 2015).
Note: Import values are based on Customs value; export values are based on free along ship value, U.S. port of export. Calculations based on unrounded data.

Demand for U.S. exports also grew in most markets. U.S. exports of oilseeds to the two largest markets, China and Mexico, grew by 11.2 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively. Oilseed exports also grew rapidly in some smaller markets, most notably Taiwan, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Turkey. U.S. corn exports grew even more quickly than exports of soybeans, with the two largest markets—Japan and Mexico—importing 49.0 percent and 21.0 percent more corn from the United States than in 2013, respectively. Growth in smaller markets was even more rapid, with U.S. corn sales to South Korea, Colombia, Egypt, Peru, and Taiwan more than doubling.6 U.S. exports of cattle and beef grew 12.1 percent by value, to $6.8 billion. This increase in value was entirely attributable to higher prices; the quantity of beef exported was just slightly lower than in 2013. High prices for U.S. beef were driven by strong demand from markets in Asia, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and, most notably, South Korea.7 The factors behind increased beef exports to South Korea are discussed below.

Another significant export increase was in ethyl alcohol. U.S. domestic exports of ethyl alcohol (ethanol) for non-beverage purposes totaled $2.1 billion in 2014, up 32.7 percent. The increase in 2014 represented a rebound from declines that occurred in each of the previous two years. Trends in U.S. non-beverage ethanol exports are driven by fuel ethanol.8 The rise in the value of U.S. exports of non-beverage ethanol resulted entirely from a 35 percent increase in the quantity exported, as the unit value declined by 2 percent.9

The increase in the quantity of exports was driven by, first, the availability of surplus domestic production reflected in relatively low corn prices; second, flat domestic demand resulting from the ethanol blend wall;10 and third, uncertainty about certain standards.11 In addition, the demand for fuel ethanol is rising in nontraditional markets, particularly in Asia and Latin America, as many of these markets are establishing renewable fuel programs. Substantial increases were registered in U.S. exports to Canada (8 percent) and Brazil (117 percent), typically the leading U.S. markets, as well as to newer markets, including the Philippines (18 percent), and South Korea (539 percent).12 U.S. corn ethanol exports held a significant price advantage in 2014 in these markets and in many others, in terms of both ethanol13 and gasoline.14

A decline in cotton exports was the most notable among U.S. agricultural export declines: cotton exports fell 21.4 percent by value and 22.4 percent by volume. Much lower U.S. exports of cotton to China (down by almost one-half) accounted for 90 percent of this decline.15 China imported 40.9 percent less cotton from all sources in 201416 because of a combination of Chinese government policies. These included changes to direct support programs for cotton farmers, the large public stocks the government has accumulated over the last few years, and an announcement of reduced quota volumes for cotton imports.17 Demand from Chinese textile mills was also low in 2014, owing mainly to the high price of cotton in China compared to other fabrics.18

On a country basis, U.S. agricultural exports to South Korea grew 28.7 percent and to India by 24.2 percent. Growth in agricultural exports to South Korea was driven by strong sales of corn (described above), beef, and pork. The primary reason for increased beef and pork shipments from the United States was that South Korean meat production in 2014 was lower than in 2013;19 in 2013, particularly high South Korean production served to limit U.S. meat exports to the country. Increased exports to India were driven by tree nuts (typically the largest U.S. agricultural export to India) and dried beans.

Agricultural exports to Brazil, by contrast, fell 16.8 percent. The decline was due mainly to a 39.1 percent drop in the value of wheat exports. However, this drop was partly driven by relatively low prices (the decline was somewhat greater in value terms than in volume) and partly because in 2013, U.S. wheat exports to Brazil had been unusually high. (Argentina—normally a key supplier to Brazil—banned wheat exports in that year.)20

U.S. Imports

Increases in U.S. agricultural imports were partly driven by a 48.7 percent increase in the value of cattle and beef imports, to $8.1 billion. Domestic supplies of cattle were low because of the lasting effects of drought in the major producing regions in preceding years,21 increasing demand for imported beef for processing. Major beneficiaries of this demand growth were Australia, which slaughtered more cattle than usual because of drought conditions there, and Canada, which benefited from a weaker Canadian dollar and thus a price advantage when exporting to the U.S. market.22

The 19.3 percent rise in the value of U.S. shellfish imports, to $10.9 billion, was mostly attributable to increased imports of frozen shrimp. Such imports grew 29.9 percent by value and 15.5 percent by volume.23 Similar to 2013, shrimp prices remained high in 2014 (particularly in the first part of the year), as recovery from a disease, Early Mortality Syndrome, continued in several major shrimp-producing countries. U.S. demand for shrimp, however, remained strong despite the relatively high prices.24 Much of U.S. demand comes from the restaurant sector, which does not consider other proteins readily substitutable for shrimp.25 The top three suppliers of frozen shrimp to the United States in 2014 were India, Indonesia, and Ecuador, and all increased their exports above 2013 levels.

As mentioned, the United States produced record crops of both soybeans and corn in 2014. The U.S. import market for these two crops, however, showed divergent trends, with oilseed imports (led by soybeans) up 44.4 percent to $2.1 billion, while cereal imports declined by 17.1 percent to $2.8 billion. This cereal import decline was driven by an 81.9 percent reduction in corn imports.

For soybeans, most of the increase in imports occurred during the first half of the year, before the record crop was harvested. The additional imports came mainly from Brazil, which harvested a very large crop in 2013, resulting in low prices that made such imports more competitive relative to domestic supplies (especially in the southeastern United States).26 As a result, the value of Brazilian soybean shipments to the United States was up 203.1 percent in 2014, compared to 2013.27 All of these shipments occurred between April and August of 2014, before the U.S. harvest. For corn, high U.S. production resulted, more predictably, in lower import demand. The sharp decrease in U.S. imports affected the two major U.S. suppliers, Canada and Brazil, with imports from Canada down by 81.4 percent and from Brazil down by 99.9 percent.

Another U.S. agricultural import that significantly declined was ethanol. U.S. imports of non-beverage ethanol totaled $620 million in 2014, a decrease of 56 percent compared with 2013. The drop in 2014 continued a trend that began in 2012. As with exports, recent trends in imports of non-beverage ethanol have been driven by demand for fuel ethanol.28 However, in 2014, this pattern shifted, as non-beverage ethanol for non-fuel use accounted for 64 percent of the total value of imports.29

The substantial decrease in the value of U.S. imports of non-beverage ethanol in 2014 resulted from lower import volumes and unit values.30 Most of the decline was in imports from the leading sources, Brazil (59 percent) and Canada (15 percent). Undenatured fuel ethanol accounted for most of the drop.31 The decline in the quantity of imports resulted mainly from the same issues with blend walls and the Renewable Fuel Standard/ California Low Carbon Fuel Standard that affected exports. An extra factor was Brazilian prices that were high relative to U.S. prices (thereby limiting demand for imports from Brazil).32

On a country basis, notable changes in U.S. agricultural imports were a 27.4 percent increase in imports from Indonesia and a 21.7 percent increase in imports from Vietnam. Increased imports from Indonesia were partly attributable to the increase in U.S. demand for imported shrimp (as mentioned above), as well as increases in imports of Indonesian palm oil and coffee. Shrimp and coffee also accounted for a large share of the increase in imports from Vietnam, along with cashews.

1 EPA, “Major Crops Grown in the United States,” April 11, 2013.
2 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS headings 1005, 1201, and 2207; accessed March 17, 2015).
3 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS headings 0102, 0910, and 2203; accessed March 17, 2015).
4 As appropriate, this section will address total exports, domestic exports, and re-exports.
5 Thiesse, “USDA Projects Record 2014 Crop Production,” September 16, 2014.
6 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS subheading 1005.90; accessed March 17, 2015).
7 Hanes, “Strong Demand in Asian Markets,” October 2, 2014.
8 Fuel ethanol accounted for 97 percent of the value of total U.S. exports of non-beverage ethanol in 2014. USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS heading 2207; accessed March 11, 2015).
9 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS heading 2207; accessed March 11, 2015).
10 The blend wall is a limit on the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline for technical reasons. The U.S. market is close to this limit, which is roughly 10 percent of total U.S. gasoline consumption. The blend wall resulted from an unexpected long-term decline in gasoline consumption caused, in part, by increasing fuel efficiency in the face of rising mandate volumes.
11 These standards are the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The RFS mandates the volume of ethanol that must be used, mainly in gasoline blends for the transportation sector. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed significant reductions in the RFS for 2014, which has yet to be finalized. 78 Federal Register (FR) 71734 (November 29, 2013), available at; 79 FR 73008 (December 9, 2014), available at The LCFS mandates a phased reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. For more information, see California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board, “Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program Background,” August 18, 2010.
12 U.S. ethanol export markets have diversified in recent years, partly in response to EU policy developments limiting the competitiveness of U.S. ethanol exports in that market. The EU market is essentially closed to U.S. fuel ethanol exports as a result of an antidumping duty and customs classification rulings that have effectively raised ethanol duties to prohibitive levels. In addition, increasingly stringent environmental requirements likely will further limit future U.S. ethanol exports to the EU.
13 Owing to a record corn crop and relatively low corn prices in 2014, U.S. corn ethanol held a cost advantage over export competitors, mainly Brazil.
14 Ethanol is an octane enhancer and is often blended with gasoline to increase its octane rating, either in conjunction with, or independent of, mandatory blending requirements. This benefits petroleum refiners when ethanol prices are lower than gasoline prices, as refiners can produce lower-octane gasoline and raise the octane level by blending lower-cost ethanol.
15 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for commodity group AG049; accessed March 17, 2015).
16 GTIS, Global Trade Atlas database (for HTS heading 5201; accessed March 16, 2015).
17 In 2014, the Chinese government launched a subsidy program giving Xinjiang cotton farmers a direct subsidy if the price falls below a target price of RMB 19,800 per ton ($1.45 per pound). Meanwhile, the government also stopped accumulating public stocks of cotton (although stock levels remained high). In combination, these factors lowered the domestic price of cotton in China and made domestic supplies more competitive relative to imports. The reduced quota volumes did not take effect until January 2015 and thus did not directly affect 2014 trade, but the planned reduction may have had an indirect effect on the market. NCC, “Annual Economic Outlook for Cotton,” February 2015.
18 NCC, “Annual Economic Outlook for Cotton,” February 2015.
19 USDA, FAS, Korea: Livestock and Products Semi-Annual, April 4, 2014.
20 USITC, “Agricultural Products,” Shifts in U.S. Merchandise Trade 2013, 2014, 63. Argentina gradually began to resume wheat exports starting in January 2014.
21 Campbell and Bjerga, “U.S. Cattle Herd at 63-Year Low,” January 31, 2014.
22 Soukup, “Beef Imports Forecast Higher,” January 2, 2015.
23 GTIS, Global Trade Atlas database (for HTS subheading 0306.17; accessed March 16, 2015).
24 FAO, “Shrimp,” September 2014. (Another factor in lower 2013 imports may have been a pending unfair trade practices case against several countries that was rejected by the Commission in fall 2013.)
25 USITC, Frozen Warmwater Shrimp, October 2013, 20, II-13.
26 Industry observer, telephone interview by USITC staff, March 18, 2015.
27 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS subheading 1201.90; accessed March 17, 2015).
28 Since statistical categories for fuel ethanol imports were established in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule in mid-2007, fuel ethanol has accounted for two-thirds to three-quarters of the annual value of non-beverage ethanol imports. An exception occurred in 2010, when fuel ethanol accounted for 10 percent of such imports. USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS heading 2207; accessed March 11, 2015).
29 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (for HTS heading 2207; accessed March 11, 2015).
30 Ibid.
31 Ibid.
32 Most imports of fuel ethanol are from sugarcane feedstocks and fill a category of the RFS not available to U.S. corn ethanol. This category (undifferentiated advanced renewable fuel) is substantially smaller than that available to corn ethanol (undifferentiated renewable fuel) and can also be filled by non-ethanol renewable fuel, mainly biomass-based diesel. As mentioned in a previous footnote, the EPA proposed significant reductions in the RFS, including that for undifferentiated advanced renewable fuel. In addition, the LCFS is under review, and a revised phasing schedule reduced the immediate need for imports of fuel ethanol. For more information, see California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board, “Low Carbon Fuel Standard Regulation,” Appendix A, “Proposed Regulation Order,” December 31, 2014.