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Huge potential to expand US agriculture exports beyond top markets: USDA official

New Delhi — Agricultural exports from the US have huge possibilities in markets beyond the top importing countries, according to a senior US Department of Agriculture trade official.

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Nearly 40% of agriculture exports from the US are sent to markets outside the top six importing regions, and those are the markets of interest and growth, Jason Hafemeister, the USDA's acting deputy under secretary for trade and foreign agriculture affairs, said during the USDA's Agriculture Outlook Forum.

The top six markets for US agriculture exports are China, Canada, Japan, Mexico, EU+UK and South Korea.

Hafemeister said Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, Hong Kong, Egypt, Thailand and India are developing countries with growing economies and growing populations, and which can serve as major markets for US agriculture products.

"These countries have got real challenges in terms of agriculture production — limited land base, limited water, and many of them are tropical countries so they can't produce the kind of land extensive, high technology, temperate agriculture products we are so good at," Hafemeister said. "So, not only there is a lot of money to be made in this tail, that's what our growth is."

India a possible game changer

Asked if there is any other country that can be a game changer like China, Hafemeister named India.

"India is the one that first comes to mind, a billion people — their real challenges in terms of agricultural production, growing economy, lots of trade barriers," he said. "Our current export performance there is relatively poor, but you could imagine, if we had a straight shot to the Indian customers, we'd see another big surge in demand for our products."

However, Hafemeister added that though there is an opportunity, the political economy in India is really fierce. "These are tough places for us to do with because of government measures, and policy problems," he said.

According to the office of US Trade Representative, India is US' 13th largest agriculture export market. In 2019, US exports of agricultural products to India totaled $1.8 billion — mostly tree nuts, cotton, fresh fruit, dairy products and lentils.

According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, market access and barriers to trade with India have been longstanding concerns among members of Congress and US exporters, and successive US administrations.

Sanitary and phytosanitary barriers in India limit US agricultural exports into the country, the congressional report said.