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American farmers over the past year have begun sending pork to Ghana, eggs to Honduras, chicken to Venezuela, and grapefruits to Vietnam.

Those countries aren’t traditional top export destinations, but they are part of the reason the U.S. last year sold a record $196 billion in ag products abroad.

Federal officials say they plan to continue their push to open small countries to U.S. foods, with a motto that no market is too small.

“It is victory by inches sometimes in trade,” said Alexis Taylor, USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.

Taylor spoke at USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum on Feb. 23 in Arlington, Virginia.

Trade diversification is intended to help the U.S. build markets in countries with an up-and-coming middle class — meaning they offer good prospects for growth.

And diversification can reduce the risk of relying too heavily on any one trading partner.

The Trump administration’s trade disputes prompted China to temporarily pull back from U.S. farm exports. Though China ultimately agreed to increase purchases of American ag products, farmers endured commodity market disruption in the meantime.

In addition to bilateral negotiations, the U.S. cultivates export markets through agricultural trade missions.

These meetings allow business and government leaders to learn about economic conditions, regulations and marketing practices in the chosen countries. Missions are also a chance for companies — including small and midsized ones — to make deals with buyers.

Last year alone, the U.S. held five trade missions to countries including Kenya, the Philippines, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

Some 100 domestic companies participated in 1,300 business-to-business meetings, yielding a projected $42 million in sales over 12 months, Taylor said.

The U.S. is planning six ag trade missions this year, with Japan, the Netherlands and Panama the destinations announced so far.

Other USDA programs share the cost of overseas marketing, and help trade associations and businesses develop long-term export markets. These programs produce $24 in return for every $1 invested, Taylor said.

“I wish my retirement account performed quite like that,” she said.

With all of the work on market expansion, the U.S. last year sold at least $1 billion in ag products to 30 countries, three more than the year before.

At the same time, the U.S. endeavors to maintain its place in the markets it has secured.

France, for example, is shifting to compostable stickers on individual fruits and vegetables. A federal program funded research to develop such stickers and preserve Americans’ market access, Taylor said.

Work continues even in the top ag markets. U.S. negotiators have been tussling with Canada over access to its dairy market and with Mexico on the sale of genetically modified corn.

And while China can be a tricky export destination, Taylor said it remains an unquestionably important market.

At $36 billion, China was the U.S.’ largest ag export destination last year, consuming a quarter of U.S. corn and soybeans.

“We have to continue to invest in the Chinese market and the relationship there, but we also need to be diversified,” Taylor said.

The U.S. expects ag exports will decline about 6% this year, to $185 billion, thanks to the softening of high commodity prices, a strong dollar, and slackening global economic growth. That forecast would still be the second highest export level in U.S. history.

Unusually, the U.S. is projected to import more ag products than it exports, by about $14 billion. Key imports include out-of-season and tropical produce, alcoholic beverages and processed foods.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that was “not surprising given the lack of attention the Biden administration has placed on trade.”

Taylor said other countries are eager to sell to the U.S.’ 300 million comparatively wealthy consumers, and American negotiators will continue to be aggressive about competing and breaking down barriers for farm exports.