USDA has continued to expand markets for American goods abroad, worked aggressively to break down barriers to trade, and assisted U.S. businesses with the resources needed to reach consumers around the world. And by organizing and executing agricultural trade missions, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) is helping U.S. businesses reach the 95-percent of consumers who live outside the United States.

Over three years, more than 1,000 U.S. companies and organizations—about 70 percent of them small and medium sized businesses—participated in 87 USDA-endorsed trade shows in 20 countries. On-site sales totaled more than $350 million and 12-month projected sales reported by exhibitors were estimated more than $2.7 billion. The companies made over 42,000 business contacts and displayed nearly 20,000 new products in various markets on all continents.

The goal of USDA trade missions is to provide U.S. agricultural businesses with firsthand market information, access to government decision makers and one-on-one meetings with business contacts, distributers and importers so they can position themselves to enter or expand their presence in foreign markets. Often, trade missions correlate with USDA-sponsored international food and trade shows, which was the case this past year during the trade missions to Peru, Indonesia and Vietnam. Trade shows give companies even more opportunities to make business contacts and share their products with potential buyers and consumers.

A full range of agribusinesses participate in these missions, including large companies with production sites around the United States and the world, as well as small- and medium-sized businesses, some of which are are just beginning to export internationally. The companies who participated in 2011 trade missions represented a variety of products including feed, meat, dairy, poultry, wood and forestry, rice, grain, seafood, fruits and vegetables, consumer-ready products, agricultural equipment and more.

The countries USDA selects as destinations for trade missions are usually booming or emerging markets where companies can expect to achieve export success. Indonesia, for example, is the United States’ largest agricultural market in Southeast Asia and Vietnam is the fastest-growing market in that region. USDA’s trade mission to Colombia and Panama came just weeks after congressional ratification of free trade agreements with these countries, which will stimulate and increase our bilateral trade immediately upon implementation.

Beyond the benefits going to participating agribusinesses, trade missions allow the USDA representatives leading the missions to meet with government and agricultural officials, and to visit agricultural production sites, markets and retail establishments around the world.

2012 is shaping up to be another great year for USDA agricultural trade missions. A mission to China is scheduled to take place from March 23-28 in the cities of Chengdu and Shanghai. With this trade mission, participating companies will have access to what is now the United States’ largest market for agricultural products.

Currently, the American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. Farm exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion—exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion—and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The agricultural trade surplus stands at a record $42.7 billion.

For more information, visit the USDA agricultural trade mission website.