PERISHABLES: Fruits & Vegetables - USDA report details changing patterns in produce trade

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): International Trade  

By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOTPatterns of trade in fresh produce have developed dramatically in the last 15 years, according to a recently released study by the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Among the most interesting trends, the United States has increasingly become a net importer of fresh produce during that period. Bananas have lost a dramatic share of the total value of imported fruit. And geography plays less of a role in the selection of produce suppliers.
Rising consumer incomes, international trade agreements, and improved technology have all led to substantial growth in the volume and variety of US fresh fruit and vegetable imports, according to the USDA study. The NAFTA countries have emerged as dominant suppliers for fresh vegetables, the Southern Hemisphere countries for off-season fresh fruit, and the equatorial countries for bananas.
US imports of fresh fruit and vegetables have increased substantially since the 1990s. Between 1990-92 and 2004-06, annual US imports of fresh fruit and vegetables rose from $2.7 billion to $7.9 billion, with the share of total US imports for agriculture rising from 11.5% to 13.3%. US exports of fresh produce also rose, but much less rapidly.
The availability of controlled atmosphere technology that keeps produce fresh has dramatically altered trading patterns for fresh produce, the report noted. “Geography has traditionally played a major role in the global trade patterns of fresh produce,” the report said. “Now, phytosanitary (plant health) measures to prevent the spread of pests or diseases have increasingly become a critical factor in determining trade partners.”
US ports are benefiting from this trend by specializing in handling fresh produce and by positioning themselves to take advantage of free trade agreements as they come on the books. The Port of Corpus Christi, for example, pushed hard to receive the first shipment of melons form Guatemala after DR-CAFTA became effective. The Philadelphia ports handle over 100,000 tons of fresh fruit annually, much of it from Chile, while Wilmington, DE, has seen continued growth in its fresh fruit tonnage.
The latest statistics available from Wilmington show growth in 2006 over 2005 across all three areas of imported fruit categories measured by the port. Imports of bananas and tropical fruit increased from 1.331 million tons to 1.338 million tons; Chilean deciduous fruit increased from 164,000 tons to 190,000 tons, and other fruit cargo went up from 33,000 tons to 48,000 tons.
Dominate regionsThe USDA study found that US fresh produce trade is dominated by a few regions. Fresh fruit imports are perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study because of the diversity of products and of countries of origin. The banana exporting countries, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, are the largest providers of fresh fruit to the United States, the report found. These countries together supply 36% of total US fresh fruit imports, with bananas making up more than three-quarters of the fresh fruit value shipped by those countries to the US. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, and Peru, supply 32% of US fresh fruit imports.
The NAFTA region supplies 27% of US fresh fruit imports. Fresh vegetable imports from Mexico and Canada comprise the single largest trade flow for US fresh produce, with over $3.2 billion in annual trade.
Bananas, grapes, and tropical fruit, such as pineapples, mangoes, papayas, and guavas, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the value of US fresh fruit imports from 2004 to 2006, the report found, with bananas alone representing 44% of the value of the combined imports for those three fruit products.
Trade in bananas has changed dramatically since the 1990s. Bananas were traditionally the number one fresh fruit consumed in the United States, and the leading US fresh fruit import. But bananas have declined as a percentage of total fruit imports since 1999, as imports of other

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.