Author: Marin Weaver
International Trade Analyst
To view changing data, mouseover the graphic below.
Change in 2015 from 2014:
- U.S. total exports: decreased by $17.9 billion (10.9 percent) to $146.6 billion
- U.S. general imports: Increased by $651 million (0.5 percent) to $136.9 billion
The value of U.S. total agricultural exports fell sharply in 2015, while U.S. general imports were nearly flat. A key factor in the 10.9 percent decline in export value was lower prices caused by large global supplies of many important U.S. export products, including soy, corn, dairy products, and frozen chicken cuts.1 Another factor was the high-valued U.S. dollar, which hurt U.S. price competitiveness and reduced demand for U.S. agricultural exports.2
U.S. general agricultural imports were led, on a product basis, by increased imports of beef, due to lower domestic supply, and berries, due to higher demand. However, these gains were held in check by substantial declines in the value of shrimp and soybean imports, for which high global supplies led to lower prices.
Continuing a long term trend, trade with the United States' partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada and Mexico, accounted for the largest share of U.S. trade in agricultural products (table AG.1). In 2015, NAFTA trade accounted for 27.5 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports and 35.2 percent of U.S. general agricultural imports.3 The shifts in trade with NAFTA partners were a major driver of the 2015 trends.
Table AG.1: Agricultural products: U.S. exports and general imports, by selected trading partners, 2011–15
|U.S. exports of domestic merchandise:|
|Total domestic exports||145,855||149,501||152,327||158,722||141,069||-17,654||-11.1|
|Total U.S. exports (domestic and foreign)||150,461||154,274||157,637||164,451||146,553||-17,898||-10.9|
|U.S. general imports:|
|Total general imports||116,374||123,321||126,657||136,207||136,858||651||0.5|
Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce for the 2011–15 period. These reflect all official revisions of previously published data up to June 2015 (accessed February 10, 2016).
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).
Contributing to the overall decline in U.S. agricultural exports, domestic exports to Canada and Mexico fell by 5.9 percent and to 8.6 percent, respectively. The shifts in imports were mixed. U.S. imports from Canada fell 4.4 percent but were offset by higher imports from Mexico (up 8.4 percent). On a product-specific basis, the largest decreases in exports were of animal feed and ethanol to Canada and of soybeans and dairy products to Mexico. The largest declines in imports from Canada were of cattle and beef and cereals. The growth in imports from Mexico was led by beef, berries, avocados, and beer.
Gains in U.S. agricultural domestic exports were limited and on a much smaller scale than the losses. The largest increase, by far, was in the export of edible nuts (up 4.6 percent to $9.1 billion), led by almonds and walnuts (table AG.2). The United States is a major producer and exporter of edible nuts, including tree nuts and peanuts, in both raw and processed forms. In 2015, the value of U.S. almond exports (both raw and processed) rose 12.0 percent to $5.1 billion, almost exclusively because of higher prices.5 The rise in price reflected a smaller 2014−15 U.S. crop, coupled with high levels of demand. The U.S. almond crop was hampered by poor pollination conditions and drought while U.S. and global demand was driven by increased recognition of almonds’ health benefits, particularly as a good source of fiber and vitamin E with low levels of saturated fat.6 The value of U.S. exports of raw, shelled walnuts also increased, rising 16.9 percent to $1.0 billion in 2015; in this case, larger export volumes were able to more than offset falling prices.7 Lower prices reflected excess supplies as two consecutive record U.S. walnut crops (in 2013−14 and 2014−15) were boosted by low disease and insect pressures, resulting in excellent crop quality. At the same time, the strong U.S. dollar and weakening economies in China and Europe suppressed global demand.8
Table AG.2: Agricultural products: Leading changes in U.S. exports and imports, 2011–15
|U.S. domestic exports:|
|Edible nuts (AG020)||5,680||6,879||8,340||8,680||9,084||403||4.6|
|Dairy products (AG010)||4,493||4,813||6,378||6,753||4,892||-1,861||-27.6|
|U.S. general imports:|
|Cattle and beef (AG002)||4,457||5,353||5,418||8,060||8,766||707||8.8|
|Other fresh fruit (AG024)||2,659||2,942||3,239||3,532||4,078||546||15.5|
Source: Compiled from official statistics of the U.S. Department of Commerce for the 2011–15 period. These reflect all official revisions of previously published data up to June 2015 (accessed February 10, 2016).
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 fall in the value of U.S. agricultural domestic exports was driven by export declines ranging from $1.5 billion to $5.0 billion for each of four product groups—oilseeds, cereals, dairy products, and poultry. Leading the losses were oilseeds (down 20.7 percent to $19.2 billion) and cereals (down 17.0 percent to $18.5 billion). Soybeans accounted for 98.6 percent of all oilseed exports, while corn and wheat accounted for 75.9 percent of cereal exports. The value of exports of all three products fell chiefly because of lower prices, although smaller export volumes also played an important role in the decline of corn and wheat.9 Prices of all three products continued a downward trajectory, which started in 2014 after a period of record high prices in the early 2010s.10 Soybean, corn, and wheat prices fell because of oversupply as record or near-record production in major producing countries in both 2014 and 2015 contributed to record high global inventories in 2015.11 The volume of U.S. corn and wheat exports (down 10.1 percent and 17.2 percent, respectively) decreased in large part because of greater competition from less-expensive Brazilian corn in major markets (e.g., Japan, South Korea, and Egypt) and from Argentina, which had a large enough supply due to a large harvest to reenter the Brazilian wheat market and, with export duties and restrictions on wheat eliminated, became more competitive compared to the United States.12
Exports of U.S. dairy products fell 27.6 percent (to $4.9 billion) because of lower demand in two major dairy markets, China and Russia. This development resulted in excess global supplies of major U.S. dairy exports, including skim milk powder (SMP), cheese, and whey. In 2015, China purchased lower volumes of these three products and whole milk powder from all sources, as inventories in China increased significantly.13 This, in turn, caused New Zealand to move production into SMP and cheese to offset the slowdown in the China market, especially in China’s demand for whole milk powder.14 In addition, Russia’s ban on EU dairy products caused an EU production diversion towards SMP and butter and away from cheese.15 These shifts in production from major dairy producers increased competition in third-country markets against U.S. dairy producers producing similar products.16
U.S. poultry exports fell by 27.5 percent because of lower meat prices and export volumes, especially of frozen chicken cuts.17 In 2015, prices declined as the U.S. supply of broilers (chickens raised for meat) rose while foreign demand fell. A principal reason for the decline in foreign demand was an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in several U.S. states, which caused a number of key markets, including Mexico and China, to place full or partial bans on U.S. poultry products.18 Additionally, 2015 saw the total loss of the Russian market, formerly a top destination for frozen chicken cuts, because of Russia’s ban on U.S. poultry.
The value of U.S. agricultural exports fell to most markets including the four largest: Canada, Mexico (see NAFTA webpage), China, and Japan. Exports to Canada were $22.4 billion, the lowest level in three years. This decline was led by animal feed (down 13.9 percent to $1.4 billion), primarily due to lower exports of soycake, used to make soybean meal.19 Record and near-record high soybean crops in major producing countries in 2014 and 2015 contributed to record production of soybean meal, one of the two products of soybean crushing, as well as lower global soybean meal prices.20 Additionally, Canadian demand was lower because Canada had enough domestic supplies of soymeal for its needs.21 The second-largest decline in the value of a product exported to Canada involved ethanol, for which the export value went down 26.2 percent to $623 million as a result of lower export volumes. Canadian demand fell mainly because lower gasoline prices caused a decline in discretionary blending of ethanol.22 A weaker Canadian dollar was another factor reducing demand for soycake, ethanol, and other agricultural imports.23
The value of U.S. exports to China fell 16.1 percent primarily because of a drop in the value of oilseeds exports (down 27.3 percent to $10.5 billion) driven by lower-prices for soybean exports.24 Export losses were mitigated to some extent by increased exports of cereals (up 37.7 percent to $2.4 billion) and animal feed (up 20.5 percent to $2.4 billion) which were used to meet the Chinese demand for animal feed. High domestic Chinese corn prices––a primary input into feed––caused the Chinese to shift to imports of less expensive feed ingredients including, from the United States, corn, sorghum, and distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS).25
In 2015, the value of exports to Japan of many products fell, led by a decrease of $831 million in the value of exports of cereals, as well as reductions of $260 million, or more, each for exports of beef, animal feeds, and pork. Cereals exports fell because of weaker demand for corn and, to a lesser extent feed wheat.26 Overall, Japan’s demand for corn and feed wheat contracted because of an expanded use of rice in feed.27 In addition, U.S. corn and wheat lost market share to other lower-priced suppliers: Brazil for corn and European countries for wheat.28 The decline in the value of animal feed exports to Japan (down 23.9 percent to $896 million) was driven by lower prices for soymeal and soy cake. In addition, the volume of U.S. soymeal exports fell as lower prices in Japan made domestic soymeal more competitive, reducing the need for U.S. soymeal.29
U.S. meat exports to Japan fell primarily because of a decline in exports of beef (down 18.8 percent to $1.3 billion) and pork (down 14.8 percent to $1.5 billion).30 The reduction in U.S. beef exports was driven by lower Japanese demand due to high prices, particularly in comparison to Australia, which benefits from increasingly favorable tariff treatment under the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA).31 Pork exports fell largely because Japan withdrew pork from its domestic stocks at the expense of imports; domestic pork stocks were very high at the start of 2015.32 Another factor depressing the flow of U.S. meat exports to Japan in 2015 was labor issues at U.S. West Coast ports, which caused shipping delays.33
The gains in imports were led by cattle and beef (up 8.8 percent to $8.8 billion), largely driven by the decision of cattle producers to expand the U.S. cattle herd. Years of declining herd size, high demand, and good weather led U.S. cattle producers to retain heifers, keeping more animals for breeding rather than for slaughter.34 The decline in slaughter of U.S. cattle led to lower U.S. beef production and an increase in prices for both cattle and beef.35 Historically, the United States imports beef from Australia, Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand; cattle are imported primarily from Mexico and Canada due to their proximity (see below). In 2015, U.S. imports of beef from Australia, Mexico, and New Zealand each increased in value by more than 20 percent, driven by the rise in U.S. beef prices.36 Imports of beef and cattle from Mexico were also higher because of a devaluation of the peso, which drove the prices of Mexican goods down.37
The second-largest increase in imports was of other fresh fruit (up 15.5 percent to $4.1 billion). This rise in value was mostly attributable to a higher quantity of imported berries and grapes (up 39.4 percent and 18.2 percent by volume, respectively).38 Consumer demand for berries, especially raspberries from Mexico, continued to rise because berries are seen as part of a healthy diet.39 Expanded grape imports were led by Chile, the largest supplier, and Peru, whose bumper crops increased global supplies.40 Imported berries, grapes, and other fruits are important for ensuring a year-round supply to U.S. consumers.41
Despite overall gains, there were some notable declines in the value of imports led by shellfish (down 11.4 percent to $9.7 billion), especially shrimp, and oilseeds (down 46.1 percent to $1.1 billion), primarily soybeans. Shrimp imports fell by $1.1 billion because of lower prices, which have been falling in response to large global supplies.42 In 2015, supply increased because of the continued recovery of Thai production from a 2013 disease outbreak and expanding production of other shrimp exporters including Ecuador, Indonesia, and India.43 Large domestic supplies of soybeans reduced the need for imports, especially from Brazil, with whom trade returned to more normal levels after having been uniquely high in 2014 (see 2014 Trade Shifts Agricultural Products webpage).44
On a country basis, the value of imports from Mexico rose 8.4 percent to $1.8 billion, led by cattle and beef (up $375 million), as well as tropical fruit, berries, and malt beverages (mainly beer), which each increased by more than $270 million. Tropical fruit includes many types of fruits, including avocados, which make up about half of all imports from Mexico and drove the category's increase.45 The volume of avocado imports rose 32.9 percent because of increased Mexican supplies and U.S. demand. The Mexican supply of avocados has been growing for a number of reasons, including better pest control and new orchards coming into production.46 Many trends are also contributing to U.S. demand for avocados, including their greater availability and popularity, due in part to their perceived nutritional benefits.47 A growing U.S. Hispanic population has also contributed to long-term growth of imports of avocados and beer from Mexico.48 Increased beer imports, whose price and volume rose equally, were also driven by the growing popularity of Mexican beer, due in part to successful branding.49
The value of imports from Canada declined by $1.8 billion, driven by lower imports of cattle and beef products and cereals, which each decreased more than $400 million. Imports of cattle and beef declined because, like the United States, Canada was rebuilding its herd, although on a smaller scale, and reducing its global cattle exports.50 Imports of many cereals from Canada decreased, with non-durum wheat imports experiencing the largest decline (down 35.5 percent to $463 million) primarily because of lower export volumes.51 Canadian wheat supplies were limited by exceptionally dry growing conditions, reducing production to below-average levels.52
1 CoBank, “Lower Commodity Prices Persist,” December 2015.
2 See, for example, USDA, ERS, Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, November 17, 2015, 1.
3 These data are for domestic merchandise only; they do not include re-exports.
4 As appropriate, this section will address total exports, domestic exports, and re-exports.
5 U.S. domestic export volumes of almonds fell slightly, slowing by less than 1 percent between 2014 and 2015. Average unit values of U.S. raw, shelled almond exports increased 19 percent during this period from $7.93/kg in 2014 to $9.44/kg in 2015. GTIS, Global Trade Atlas database (accessed June 8, 2016).
6 Patton, “Almond Prices Surge as Sales Boom Collides,” n.d. (accessed June 2, 2016); Gillie, “Almond Prices Reflecting California Drought,” May 1, 2015.
7 Walnuts export volumes rose by 50 percent, but average unit values of U.S. raw, shelled walnut exports fell 22 percent, decreasing from $10.27/kg in 2014 to $7.98/kg in 2015. GTIS, Global Trade Atlas database (accessed June 8, 2016).
8 Fujii, “Record Walnut Crops Undercutting Prices,” September 9, 2015.
9 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed February 10, 2016).
10 Thiesse, “Low Corn, Soybean Prices Challenge Farmers,” June 9, 2015; Doering, “Low Commodity Prices,” August 25, 2015; USDA, ERS, Domestic and International Prices, “All Years for Table 20” (accessed June 6, 2016).
11 USDA, PSD Online (accessed June 2, 2016).
12 The U.S. dollar appreciated 30 percent vis-à-vis the Brazilian real. USDA, FAS, Brazil: Grain and Feed Update, January 1, 2016, 1, 3; USDA, PSD Online database (accessed June 7, 2016); KPMG, “Argentina: New Government Eliminates Restrictions,” December 13, 2015.
13 In the first half of the year, China dairy imports on a milk-equivalent basis were down 35 percent from 2014. Decreased demand in China pushed 2.7 million tons of milk back onto the world market. Levitt, “Production and Stocks a Heavy Burden,” August 19, 2015.
14 Levitt, “Production and Stocks a Heavy Burden,” August 19, 2015.
15 The U.S. Department of State notes: “The U.S. government does not recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea in March 2014. That annexation, along with Russia’s incitement of and involvement in conflict in Eastern Ukraine, has led the United States and other countries to place economic sanctions on both individuals and entities in the Russian banking and energy sectors.” USDOS, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, “2015 Investment Climate Statement—Russia,” May 2015, 3; U.S. Treasury, “Announcement of Expanded Treasury Sanctions,” September 12, 2014. See Russia webpage for more information. Subsequently, Russia enacted bans on a number of EU and U.S. agricultural products, including dairy and poultry (as well as products from other countries). It appears likely that these bans will be extended through the end of 2017. USDA, FAS, Russia Announces Ban, August 7, 2014; Hille, “Russia Threatens,” August 7, 2014; Rankin, “Russia Responds to Sanctions,” August 7, 2014; Mitchell, “Russia Prepares to Extend Agri-Food Embargo,” June 2, 2016.
16 Whey is a co-product of cheese production used primarily for livestock feed.
17 In 2015, frozen chicken leg quarters, the largest U.S. poultry export, fell 18 percent by volume from 2014, and its unit value declined 24 percent. USITC DataWeb/USDOC (HTS statistical reporting number 0207.14.0010; accessed February 10, 2016).
18 See, for example, USDA, ERS, Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, July 16, 2015, 2, 10–11; USDA, ERS, Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, November 17, 2015, 1, 13; Plume, “Dozens of Countries Are Banning US Poultry,” April 20, 2015.
19 When most of the oil has been extracted from soybeans, the intermediate product is called soycake or soybean cake. Soycake is ground into soybean meal, an input into animal feed. See, e.g., Soybean Meal.org, Info Center, http://www.soymeal.org/composition.html (accessed June 7, 2016).
20 USDA, PSD Online database, accessed June 7, 2016; Hurt, “Weekly Outlook: Lower Pork Costs,” August 13, 2015.
21 Soycake exports were down 36.7 percent to $317 million. USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 4, 2016); USDA, FAS, Canada: Oilseed and Products Annual, April 22, 2016, 12.
22 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 7, 2016); USDA, FAS, Canada: Biofuels Annual, August 19, 2015, 11.
23 USDA, FAS, Canada: Oilseed and Products Annual, April 22, 2016, 1; USDA, FAS, Canada: Biofuels Annual, August 19, 2015, 11.
24 Fifty-six percent of U.S. soybean exports were to China in 2015 (based on value). USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 1, 2016) (based on HTS subheadings 1201.90.0000 and 1207.90.0095).
25 Sapp, “DDGS Exports to China Returning to Normal Levels,” May 6, 2015.
26 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 1, 2016).
27 USDA, FAS, Japan: Grain and Feed Annual, March 15, 2016, 7.
28 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 1, 2016); USDA, FAS, Japan: Grain and Feed Annual, March 15, 2016, 7; USDA, FAS, Japan: Grain and Feed Annual, July 25, 2015, 1, 6-8 ; USDA, FAS, Japan: Grain and Feed Annual: October, October 23, 2016, 1,7-9
29 In Japan, U.S. soymeal also faces a long-term competitive disadvantage compared to Chinese meal, which is more affordable and has more flexibility in the size of a shipment than U.S. soymeal. USDA, FAS, Japan: Oilseeds and Products Annual, April 7, 2016, 10-11.
30 Based on commodity groups AG002 (cattle and beef) and AG003 (swine and pork). However, in 2015 the United States did not export cattle or swine to Japan. USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 1, 2016).
31 USDA, FAS, Japan: Livestock and Products Annual, August 31, 2015, 1–3, 5–6.
32 USDA, FAS, Japan: Livestock and Products Annual, August 31, 2015, 9; Agriculture and Livestock Industries Corporation (of Japan), Supply and Demand of Pork (accessed June 6, 2016).
33 See, e.g., USDA, FAS, Japan: Livestock and Products Annual, August 31, 2015, 1, 9.
34 Peel, “Beef Herd Expansion,” August 10, 2015; Henderson, “Cattle Producers Rebuild Herds,” March 10, 2016.
35 U.S. beef production in 2015 was 23.7 billion pounds, down somewhat from 24.3 billion in 2014 (including beef produced from imported cattle). USDA, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, April 12, 2016, 31.
36 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 9, 2016). Beef imports from Canada also increased in 2015 in both value and volume, as the Canadian dollar depreciated relative to the U.S. dollar, making the U.S. market more attractive.
37 USDA, ERS, Agricultural Exchange Rate Data Set (accessed June 7, 2016).
38 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 7, 2016).
39 Abcarian, “Imports Keep Domestic Shelves Stocked,” September 17, 2015.
40 USDA, FAS, Chile: Fresh Deciduous Fruit Semi-Annual, May 12, 2015, 3; USDA, FAS, Peru: Fresh Deciduous Fruit Annual, November 1, 2015, 4–5. Chile supplies roughly 60 percent of the U.S. market, and Peru is a fast-growing supplier . USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 7, 2016).
41 See, e.g., Abcarian, “Imports Keep Domestic Shelves Stocked,” September 17, 2015.
42 The volume of shrimp imports rose 1 percent in 2015, while the unit value of imports declined 22 percent. USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed February 10, 2016).
43 FAO, “Shrimp,” November 2015; Mulvany, “Asian Shrimp Imports,” September 7, 2015. The volume of shrimp imports rose 1 percent in 2015, while the unit value of imports declined 22 percent. USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed February 10, 2016).
44 USITC, “Agricultural Products,” in Shifts in U.S. Merchandise Trade, 2014, June 2015.
45 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 8, 2016).
46 USDA, FAS, Mexico: Avocado Annual, November 24, 2015.
47 See, e.g., Ferdman, “The Rise of the Avocado,” January 22, 2015; Burnfield, “Reasons Abound for Popularity of Avocados,” August 11, 2015.
48 See, e.g., Ferdman, “The Rise of the Avocado,” January 22, 2015; Jacobsen, “2015 Beer Report,” March 12, 2015; Penicka, “Hispanic Population Growth,” May 13, 2015. <
49 Market Watch, “Beer Imports Are Recapturing their Momentum,” September 15, 2015.
50 USDA, United States and Canadian Cattle and Sheep, March 8, 2016, 1.
51 USITC DataWeb/USDOC (accessed June 8, 2016).
52 USDA, FAS, Canada: Grain and Feed Update, October 26, 2015, 2.