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Value of Food & Agricultural Trade Resource Center

The U.S. agricultural sector can’t afford to take its eyes off trade. The United States is the world’s second largest agricultural exporter, behind only the 28 nations of the European Union.  U.S. agricultural exports reached $139.7 billion in 2018. The United States is also the world’s largest agricultural importer, bringing more than $128.8 billion of food and feed to U.S. firms and families each year. 

Both agricultural exports and imports have grown significantly over the last few decades to meet growing international and domestic demand. While trade in agriculture still conjures up the picture of a cargo ship of soybeans, the composition and pattern of U.S. agricultural trade has also shifted significantly. The share of bulk commodities, like grains, oilseeds, rice, and wheat, has declined while exports of consumer-oriented and high-value products—such as dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and meats—have grown. Trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, and rising household incomes around the world have shifted the destinations for U.S. agricultural exports.

With more products going to more countries around the world, the trade policy decisions made in Washington, D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and around the world are increasingly relevant to everyday decisions on the farm. For example, two recent studies commissioned by the Farm Foundation with Purdue University found that the decision to renegotiate NAFTA into the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) could benefit the U.S. agricultural sector by $450 million a year, but the decision to pull the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership could cost the U.S. agricultural sector $1.8 billion a year in exports..

Understanding the reasoning behind, the meaning of, and the potential impacts of these trade policy decisions is critical to the future success of the U.S. food and agricultural sector. Farm Foundation’s new Food and Agricultural Trade Resource Center, which is designed to bring clarity to trade discussions and enable productive debate and dialogue on these trade policy issues, strives to do just that. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I urge food and agricultural stakeholders to take advantage of this opportunity to educate themselves and join the conversation about trade, trade policy, and their implications, to ensure that U.S. agriculture is prepared to participate in the policy debates to come. 

Author Darci Vetter is the General Manager for Public Affairs at Edelman. Ambassador Vetter is a former Chief Agricultural Negotiator with the U.S. Trade Representative and Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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