Agriculture -- and much of rural America for that matter -- is highly sensitive to global trade policy. So it's not surprising that a broad coalition of rural interests favor ratification of three long-delayed free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
U.S. wheat producers, for example, exported more than half of their total annual production last year and the three nations in question purchased 1.9 million metric tons of U.S. wheat, valued at $650 million dollars.
But without ratifying new agreements, U.S. wheat producers stand to lose export market share to foreign competition from Australia, Canada, the European Union and Argentina.
Against that backdrop, the Agriculture Department released its latest estimates on trade Thursday, and while the U.S. still enjoys a sizable agricultural trade surplus, the effects of increased competition for wheat exports were evident.
According to the Agriculture Department, U.S. agricultural exports will increase to a record $137 billion in 2011... up 26 percent ($28.3 billion) from last year.
Grain and feed exports are predicted to decline to $38.8 billion, as increased shipments of foreign wheat offset higher prices for corn, rice, and other coarse grains.
Cotton exports are forecast to increase slightly on strong second quarter shipments to Asia where strong demand also is expected to fuel increased pork, beef and dairy exports.
U.S. agricultural imports are forecast to increase to a record $93 billion. Both volume and values were revised higher, reflecting strong domestic demand, especially for canola, olive and palm oil.
Noting that imports are expected to rise much faster than exports, USDA reduced the agricultural overall trade surplus to $44 billion. That's down $3.5 billion from its February forecast, but still well above the previous record set in 2008.