Food Import Export

Food Import Export

How Food Import and Export Affects the Global Economy

Food import and export is a complex and dynamic process that involves many factors and actors. Food trade can have positive and negative impacts on the global economy, food security, environment, health, and culture. In this article, we will explore some of the main aspects and challenges of food import and export, and how they affect different regions and countries.

Food import and export: definition and trends

Food import and export refers to the movement of food products across national borders for consumption, processing, or re-export. Food trade can be classified into two types: intra-regional and inter-regional. Intra-regional trade occurs within a geographic region, such as within Africa or within Europe. Inter-regional trade occurs between different regions, such as between Asia and North America.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the value of global food trade increased from $438 billion in 2000 to $1.5 trillion in 2018, representing a 242% increase. The volume of food trade also increased by 91%, from 570 million tonnes to 1.09 billion tonnes in the same period. The main drivers of this growth include population growth, income growth, urbanization, dietary changes, technological innovations, trade liberalization, and globalization.

The main food products traded globally are cereals, oilseeds, meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood, sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, and alcoholic beverages. The main exporters of food products are the United States, the European Union, Brazil, China, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. The main importers of food products are China, the United States, the European Union, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia, and South Korea.

Food import and export: benefits and costs

Food trade can bring many benefits to both exporting and importing countries. Some of the potential benefits are:

  • Economic growth: Food trade can generate income, employment, foreign exchange earnings, and tax revenues for exporting countries. It can also reduce production costs, increase consumer choices, lower prices, and improve food quality for importing countries.
  • Food security: Food trade can enhance food availability, access, utilization, and stability for both exporting and importing countries. It can help to diversify food sources, reduce seasonal fluctuations, cope with shocks and emergencies, and meet nutritional needs.
  • Environment: Food trade can promote efficient use of natural resources, reduce waste and losses, encourage adoption of sustainable practices, and foster innovation and adaptation to climate change.
  • Health: Food trade can improve health outcomes by increasing dietary diversity, reducing micronutrient deficiencies, preventing foodborne diseases, and facilitating access to safe and nutritious food.
  • Culture: Food trade can enrich cultural diversity by exposing people to different cuisines, tastes, traditions, and values.

However, food trade can also entail some costs and risks for both exporting and importing countries. Some of the potential costs are:

  • Economic dependence: Food trade can create dependence on foreign markets or suppliers for exporting or importing countries. It can also expose them to price volatility, market distortions, trade barriers, and unfair competition.
  • Food insecurity: Food trade can undermine food sovereignty, local production, and self-reliance for exporting or importing countries. It can also increase vulnerability to shocks, disruptions, and crises.
  • Environment: Food trade can contribute to environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and natural resource depletion for exporting or importing countries. It can also increase transport costs, energy use, and pollution.
  • Health: Food trade can pose health risks by introducing new pathogens, contaminants,
    or allergens for exporting or importing countries. It can also promote unhealthy diets, obesity, and non-communicable diseases.
  • Culture: Food trade can erode cultural identity, heritage, and diversity for exporting or importing countries. It can also induce cultural homogenization, loss of local knowledge, and social conflicts.

Food import and export: challenges and opportunities

Food trade faces many challenges in the current global context. Some of the main challenges are:

COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global food supply chains, trade flows, and logistics. It has also affected consumer demand, prices, and incomes. The pandemic has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of the global food system, and highlighted the need for resilience, coordination, and cooperation.

Climate change

Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and storms. It has also altered crop yields, water availability, soil quality, and pest infestations. Climate change has posed significant threats to food production, trade, and security.

Trade tensions

Trade tensions have escalated among major food exporters and importers, such as the United States, China, the European Union, and India. Trade disputes have involved issues such as tariffs, subsidies, standards, and regulations. Trade conflicts have created uncertainty and instability in the global food market, and undermined multilateral trade rules and institutions.

Food safety

Food safety has become a major concern for both producers and consumers of food products. Food safety incidents have occurred due to biological, chemical, or physical hazards in food products. Food safety challenges have arisen from factors such as globalization, urbanization, industrialization, and intensification of food production and trade.

Despite these challenges, food trade also offers many opportunities for improvement and innovation. Some of the main opportunities are:


Digitalization has enabled the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in food production and trade. ICTs have facilitated data collection, analysis, and sharing; improved traceability, transparency, and accountability; enhanced efficiency, quality, and safety; and enabled e-commerce, online platforms, and digital payments.


Diversification has allowed the expansion of food product varieties and markets. Diversification has increased consumer preferences, demand, and satisfaction; reduced market concentration and dependence; increased competitiveness and profitability; and fostered innovation and adaptation.


Regionalization has promoted the integration of regional food markets and supply chains. Regionalization has increased trade volumes and values; reduced trade costs and barriers; improved market access and opportunities; and strengthened regional cooperation and coordination.


Sustainability has encouraged the adoption of practices that balance economic, social, and environmental objectives in food production and trade. Sustainability has improved resource use efficiency and conservation; reduced waste and losses; enhanced resilience and adaptation; and supported food security and nutrition.

Food Import Export: A Global Perspective

The trade of agricultural commodities is an important aspect of the global food system. It reflects the supply and demand of different products across regions and countries, as well as the impacts of policies, prices, climate, and other factors. In this blog post, we will explore some of the trends and statistics of food import and export in the past two decades, using data from various sources.

Food Export Value by Commodity Group

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , the total value of food (excluding fish) exports in 2020 was $1.6 trillion, a slight decrease from the previous year. Fruit and vegetables accounted for 22 percent of the total value, followed by cereals and preparations (16 percent) and meat and meat preparations (12 percent) . The Americas was the largest net food exporter, and Asia was the largest net food importer. Europe became a net food exporter in 2013.

U.S. Agricultural Trade by Major Commodity Group

The United States is one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters and importers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) , U.S. agricultural exports were valued at $177 billion in 2021, an 18 percent increase relative to 2020. Imports grew by almost 17 percent in 2021 to $171 billion. The top four categories of U.S. agricultural exports were grains and feeds; oilseeds and products; animals (e.g., livestock and poultry), meats, and products; and horticultural products. These categories equally accounted for about 90 percent of total exports between 2017 and 2021. The top five U.S. agricultural trading partners in 2021 were China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and the European Union.

Food Import Value by Country of Origin

The value of U.S. food imports also increased in 2021, with gains in all major commodity groups. Fifty-two percent of U.S. agricultural imports in 2021 were horticultural products, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, wine, spirits, essential oils, and nursery stock . The top five countries of origin for U.S. food imports in 2020 were Canada, Mexico, China, Italy, and France . These countries accounted for about 45 percent of the total value of U.S. food imports in that year .

The trade of agricultural commodities is a dynamic and complex phenomenon that involves many factors and actors. It has implications for food security, nutrition, income, environment, and health. Understanding the trends and statistics of food import and export can help policymakers, researchers, producers, consumers, and other stakeholders to make informed decisions and actions to improve the global food system.


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