The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal year 2003 are forecast at $57.5 billion, a $4 billion increase over the expected $53.5 billion for fiscal 2002. Export sales at this level would be the highest since 1997, only $2.3 billion below the 1996 all-time record of $59.9 billion.

"This forecast for next year is very encouraging," says Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "We will continue to aggressively use our market development and expansion programs to increase exports in the next few years, while at the same time pursuing an ambitious trade liberalization agenda to grow markets for U.S. food and agricultural exports."

Veneman says that passage of Trade Promotion Authority for President Bush greatly facilitates the broad range of negotiations now underway to open markets internationally under the WTO, in this hemisphere in a Free Trade Area of the Americas and bilaterally with key countries.

"A free and competitive global market for food and agriculture products could mean $13 billion a year in economic growth for America's farmers and consumers, and that is why the Bush Administration has intensified its trade policy initiatives on behalf of our farmers and ranchers," Veneman says.

The 7.5% increase in the forecast value for exports is a substantial gain over 2002 and is mainly due to higher prices for grains and oilseeds.

Bulk commodity volume, however, is forecast to be down 4.6 million tons largely because of reduced soybean shipments coming off record export levels.

For the major field crops – corn, rice and cotton – export volumes are expected to be higher. USDA also is forecasting modest increases in the value of livestock and poultry products of $500 million and a $300 million gain for horticulture.