Analysts said the 7.5 percent jump from FY 2002’s $53.5 billion is mainly due to higher prices for grains and oilseeds. Bulk commodity volume, however, is forecast to be down 4.6 million tons largely because of reduced soybean shipments coming off record export levels.

“This forecast for next year is very encouraging,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman in a press statement. “We will continue to aggressively use our market development and expansion programs to increase exports in the next few years, while at the same time pursuing an ambitious trade liberalization agenda to grow markets for U.S. food and agricultural exports.”

Veneman said that passage of Trade Promotion Authority for President Bush greatly facilitates the broad range of negotiations now underway to open markets internationally under the WTO, in this hemisphere in a Free Trade Area of the Americas and bilaterally with key countries.

“A free and competitive global market for food and agriculture products could mean $13 billion a year in economic growth for America’s farmers and consumers, and that is why the Bush Administration has intensified its trade policy initiatives on behalf of our farmers and ranchers,” Veneman said.

In contrast to soybeans, export volumes for the major field crops – corn, rice and cotton – are expected to be higher. USDA also is forecasting modest increases in the value of livestock and poultry products of $500 million and a $300 million gain for horticulture.

In a related matter, the U.S. International Trade Commission said the U.S. trade Representative has asked for a confidential study regarding the potential impact of eliminating tariffs on farm imports from countries in North and South America.

The ITC said Ambassador Robert Zoellick requested the study as part of the administration’s effort to craft a free-trade zone covering every country in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba by the end of President Bush s term in January 2005.

The new Free Trade Area of the Americas presumably would also mean lower tariffs for U.S. products being shipped to this country.

Zoellick also asked the panel to assess the impact of eliminating, or at least reducing by half, tariffs on farm goods from the 143 fellow member countries of the World Trade Organization The ITC said the findings will not be released to the public.

The United States wants to conclude new world trade agreements covering agriculture, services, manufactured goods and other sectors by the same January 2005 deadline.

Zoellick’s request covered scores of farm goods, including many highly protected items such as peanuts, sugar and orange juice. The list also includes dairy products, grains, oilseeds, tobacco, cotton, wool, beef, lamb, fruits and vegetables also made the list.

The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement would stretch from Canada to Argentina and also encompass the Caribbean.

USDA’s Economic Research Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service, and the World Agricultural Outlook Board release agricultural trade projections quarterly. The summary and full report of USDA’s Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Exports may be accessed from the ERS web site (http://www.ers.usda.gov).

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com