US Agribiz no longer on top

While we pour blood and $1.5 trillion into Iraq and Afghanistan, the USA is no longer the world’s top agricultural exporter. Twenty years ago it would have seemed absurd….

10.jan.08 [via Agnet]
Fortune Magazine
Susanna B Hecht, Charles C Mann

After a half-century of dominance, the U.S. is losing its edge in agriculture to a booming, hi-tech Latin America powerhouse.

Today Soylandia, with nearly 60% of the world market, dominates the global soy trade. And Brazil the heart of Soylandia is an agricultural powerhouse. Not only is it the world’s biggest soy exporter, a title it seized from the U.S. in 2006, but it has the world’s biggest farm trade surplus, $27.5 billion last year. The U.S. farm surplus was $4.6 billion.

The leading producer of beef, poultry, pork, ethanol, coffee, orange juice concentrate, sugar, and tobacco, Brazil has seen farm exports grow an average of 20% a year since 2000, according to the USDA.

Warning us that there are bumps ahead, John Bogle, founder of the $1.3 trillion Vanguard mutual funds, says,

“At home, we have a tremendous future financial problem with the federal deficit. We’ll have to take action on Social Security someday. Government spending has gotten to the point where we will have to either cut spending or raise taxes. Another problem is this deadlocked Congress. And I see the quality and caliber of our presidential nominees, and I am not impressed. It raises the question of whether this country is even able to run itself anymore.”

But let’s not be certain about gloom! John Bogle asserts there’s much on the horizon too:

What’s the best investing advice you’ve ever received?

It was the best advice and the earliest advice. I was working at a brokerage house one summer while in college, and one of the guys who was another runner at the firm delivering securities said, “Let me tell you all you need to know about the investment business.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Nobody knows nuthin’.” That sounds cynical, but we don’t know what the markets hold, certainly not in the short run. We have no idea.

There are many changes ahead, as always. Impatience in America can reshape our world. Impatience from poor workers in China can skew our sense of reality in a heartbeat. James Fallows at the Atlantic tries to explain “The $1.4 Trillion Question“:

Through the quarter-century in which China has been opening to world trade, Chinese leaders have deliberately held down living standards for their own people and propped them up in the United States. This is the real meaning of the vast trade surplus—$1.4 trillion and counting, going up by about $1 billion per day—that the Chinese government has mostly parked in U.S. Treasury notes.

In effect, every person in the (rich) United States has over the past 10 years or so borrowed about $4,000 from someone in the (poor) People’s Republic of China.