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Produce imports up, exports stagnant

ers import chart 2007-21

Fresh fruit and vegetable imports continue to become more prominent in the American food supply, according to figures from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), while U.S. fruit and vegetable exports have remained stagnant over the past decade.

ERS figures indicate that while imports accounted for less than 30 percent of the nation’s fresh fruit supply in 1981, 40 years later, in 2021, imports accounted for over 60 percent.

Headshot of Richard Smoley

Imports went from less than 10 percent to 38 percent of the nation’s fresh vegetable supply over the same period. (These figures exclude potatoes, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms.)

This trend is largely due to North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), enacted in 1994. The transition to tariff- and quota-free trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico as a result of NAFTA was completed in 2008.

Since then, “U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable imports have increased with few interruptions,” according to the ERS. Free trade between the three nations has continued under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which went into effect on July 1, 2020.

“The import share increased by more than 20 percentage points during this period [from 2007 to 2021] for 10 crops: asparagus, avocados, bell peppers, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, raspberries, snap beans, and tomatoes,” says ERS.

Canada and Mexico remain by far the biggest trade partners for both imports and exports of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“In 2022, Mexico and Canada supplied 51 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of U.S. fresh fruit imports, and 69 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of U.S. fresh vegetable imports in terms of value,” the ERS notes.

Exports, by contrast, had a compound average growth rate of -0.48 percent in dollar terms from 2013 to 2022. Fruits and Vegetables | USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Canada, by far the largest customer for the U.S., bought $5.63 billion worth of fruits and vegetables in 2022—virtually unchanged from $5.37 billion in 2013.

Mexico bought $1.77 billion of American fruits and vegetables in 2022, up slightly (again in dollar terms) from 2013’s $1.22 billion.

Total export value for U.S. fruits and vegetables was $12.59 billion in 2022, with a 3-year average of $12.25 billion.

The third and fourth biggest customers for U.S. produce were Japan (with $1.05 billion in sales for 2022) and South Korea (with $624.72 million in sales for 2022).

One notable change from 2013 to 2022 was for figures from the European Union. Over this period, dollar values of fruit and vegetable exports to the EU fell by over half—from $721.96 million to $358.58 million.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 13 books.