The United States Department of Agriculture has raised its forecast for agricultural exports in the fiscal year 2005 to $59bn from an earlier forecast of $56bn.

This would be the third highest level on record. It compares with a record set in 2004 of $62.3bn. The second highest was 1996 at $59.8bn.

"This new export forecast clearly demonstrates the strength of the US agricultural sector," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

Canada will remain the number one market for US agricultural products at a projected $10.2bn, while Mexico at $8.5bn is expected to surpass Japan ($7.7bn) for the first time. Export sales to the European Union are projected at $7bn and China at $4.6bn, to account for the top five markets. US agricultural exports to the Western Hemisphere should exceed those to Asia by $2.9bn.

Agricultural imports are forecast at a record $58bn, continuing a 35-year upward trend that has advanced at a faster pace since 2003. With exports lower in 2005, the trade surplus is expected to be about $1bn. Demand for imports continues to rise, but most of the current increase in import value is due to higher prices. Consistent with long-term trends, rising imports of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, wines and beer and essential oils account for more than half of the gain, but large beef and snack food purchases have also been significant in recent years.