Tuberville Calls for Increase in Agricultural Exports

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) joined his colleagues in urging U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to increase U.S. agricultural exports and improve the competitiveness of U.S. products abroad. Considering net farm income has fallen $70 billion in two years, the most rapid decline in U.S. history, and agricultural exports fell be over $17 billion in the last fiscal year, we need to prioritize securing additional markets for our producers.

The letter was also cosigned by U.S. Senators John Thune (R-SD), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Ted Budd (R-NC), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Ron Johnson (R-WI), James Lankford (R-OK), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Jim Risch (R-ID), Mike Rounds, (R-SD), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

The full letter can be found here or below.

Dear Ambassador Tai and Secretary Vilsack:

We write to express deep concern with the continued erosion of critical markets for U.S. agricultural exports. For decades, the United States steadily increased market access for U.S. food and agricultural products. We accomplished this feat through negotiations of actual free trade agreements, removal of technical barriers to trade, and holding our trading partners accountable to their commitments, all of which have helped strengthen the agriculture economy at home and developed important strategic relationships abroad. Yet, in the last fiscal year (FY) alone, U.S. agricultural exports declined by more than $17 billion, and recent forecasts show a further decline by more than $8 billion in FY 2024. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade deficit is projected to reach a record $30.5 billion in FY 2024. This decline is unsustainable, and we urge the Biden administration to immediately take action to improve the competitiveness of U.S. agricultural products abroad and reverse this trend.

We expect trade to fluctuate in response to macroeconomic factors and market conditions. However, the current sharp decline in U.S. agricultural exports is directly attributable to and exacerbated by an unambitious U.S. trade strategy that is failing to meaningfully expand market access or reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. While the Biden administration continually refuses to pursue traditional free trade agreements, China, Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and others continue to ink trade pacts that diminish American export opportunities and global economic influence.

International trade is critical to the continued success of U.S. agriculture. For the 2023 marketing year, nearly 70 million acres of major crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat were planted to meet the demands of our foreign customers. Additionally, more than 95 percent of U.S. cotton produced, nearly 80 percent of almonds produced, and more than 70 percent of nonfat milk powder produced were destined for the export market in 2023. And in a typical year, half of U.S.-produced rice and 20 percent of U.S.-produced potatoes are exported. Diminishing access to foreign agricultural markets for U.S. industries creates significant economic headwinds and jeopardizes the livelihoods of more than one million American workers, farmers, and ranchers, as well as millions more U.S. jobs throughout the export supply chain.

With our concerns in mind, please respond to the following questions within 14 days of your receipt of this letter.

  • What specific actions does the Biden administration plan to take to increase U.S. agricultural exports in 2024?
  • Does the Biden administration intend to pursue new or improved free trade agreements with any countries to obtain new market access for agricultural products in 2024?

We further ask the Biden administration to take steps to analyze and consider the relationship between U.S. competitiveness and market share in foreign agricultural markets with negotiated tariffs, tariff rate quotas, and other market access provisions. 

A continued decline in U.S. agricultural exports is avoidable and unacceptable. The Biden administration must take immediate action to ensure this does not become a long-term trend. Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.


In fiscal year 2023, U.S. agricultural trade declined by more than $17 billion, and recent forecasts show a further decrease of $8 billion in FY24. Moreover, the U.S. agricultural trade deficit is estimated to reach a record high of $30.5 billion in FY24. The downturn in agricultural exports is directly related to the lackluster U.S. trade strategy adopted by the Biden administration. This strategy is failing to meaningfully expand market access, reduce tariffs, and consider non-tariff barriers to trade, leading to the global community disregarding interest in engaging with the U.S. through trade.

International trade plays a vital role in rural America’s success, as well as many manufacturing jobs. 20% of U.S. farm revenue is generated from exports, and producers are already struggling with high input costs and bureaucratic barriers that burden their operations. The Biden administration must prioritize U.S. agricultural trade to ensure the industry remains stable and viable.

In 2022, agricultural exports topped $1.7 billion in Alabama according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Alabama ranked 4th nationally in broiler exports with $486.5 million in exports, followed by 6th nationwide with $82.2 million in oilseed product exports. The state also ranks 8th with $363.6 million in nationwide cotton exports. From 2020 – 2022, Alabama ranked 9th in tree nut exports. However, Alabama has exported little to no tree nuts since 2019.

In February, Senator Tuberville questioned Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, about the urgent need to support farmers struggling from inflation, the dire state of the agriculture economy, and burdensome regulations from Washington. Additionally, Senator Tuberville asked about what the USDA and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) are doing to promote agricultural trade and regain market share to remain competitive. Secretary Vilsack deflected the question, as this Administration has done nothing to aid agriculture exports or pursue free trade agreements, and instead pivoted to the need for additional Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

Excerpts from this conversation between Senator Tuberville and Secretary Vilsack can be found below.

TUBERVILLE: “I’ve got a question on trade. The U.S. has historically been strong on agricultural exports. But due to President Biden’s economy, U.S. agricultural trade has a trade deficit of over $30 billion due to rising imports and lack of new market access. Can you share to us how the USDA is working with the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to underscore the need for a proactive approach so that our competitors do not continue to gain market share and capture opportunities that would have otherwise been ours?”

VILSACK: “Well, I think you have to look at what’s driving the import issue. What’s driving it in large part are horticulture and sugar, which are two areas. I would also say that sometimes there’s a tendency, Senator, to solely focus on trade agreements and not understand that there’s work below that process that matters. We’ve calculated roughly $20 billion of trade wins that have occurred in the last couple of years. I’ll just give you a couple of examples: Mexico and potato access, Japan with increased beef quota, India with expanding access to apples, the Philippines expanded access to pork. Egypt expanded access to poultry. There’s a substantial number of things that have occurred that don’t get the headlines, but that actually result in increased trade. The reality is, we have a much stronger economy than the rest of the world has. When China’s economy suffers, that obviously has an impact and effect on exports as well. So, it’s a combination of factors. Strong American dollar? Do we want a weak dollar? I don’t know, do we want a weak American economy so that people aren’t buying stuff? I don’t know. We’re going to continue to work on this. And I would say as far as trade agreements are concerned, the reality is unless—maybe you think you can pass Trade Promotional Authority —I haven’t seen that happen here in this body, and until it does, it becomes very difficult for us to negotiate a trade agreement when the people we’re negotiating with believe that there are 535 folks—yourself included—that could renegotiate the deal. It’s hard to have a trade agreement without Trade Promotion Authority.”

In March 2023, Senator Tuberville questioned Secretary Vilsack on poultry trade, specifically Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), a deadly disease which impacts the poultry industry. Excerpts can be found below.

TUBERVILLE: “The poultry industry is a crucial economic driver for my state as it represents 65% of Alabama’s agricultural income and provides 86,000 jobs. Considering the U.S. exports approximately 18% of chicken meat production – which is valued at over $4 billion annually – we must maintain strong trade agreements and our export markets. I am concerned about HPAI vaccine mandates impacting those markets as most nations do not accept imports from vaccinating countries. It is my understanding that the use of a HPAI vaccine will not eliminate or eradicate the virus – similar to the COVID-19 vaccine. Since a vaccine will not keep birds from getting the virus or eradicate the virus from the U.S., do you think it is a useful tool?”

VILSACK: “At the present time there is no vaccine for the current HPAI virus. There are a number of vaccines that are in the process of being developed. There is a long way to go, Senator, before we can say we have a vaccine. Then there’s additional steps that have to be taken in order to determine the impact and effect of a vaccine on the ability to sell product overseas. There are a number of countries that will basically shut off exports if the meat has been vaccinated, if the poultry has been vaccinated. So, I think there’s a process there. But we’re a long way away from having a vaccine that is effective and a long way from having a vaccine that the rest of the world accepts.”

Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.