Strengths and Limitations


Recommended Citation



The U.S. Food Imports data set provides import values of edible products (food and beverages) entering U.S. ports and the products’ origin of shipment. Data include commodities from all countries of origin and are from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. Food and beverage import values are compiled by calendar year into food groups, corresponding to major commodities or level of processing. At least 10 years of annual data are included, enabling users to track long-term patterns.


Value data are in nominal U.S. dollars and are not adjusted for inflation. Year-over-year nominal changes in value are tracked in the FoodValue% tab of the data product.


Trade data released from the Census Bureau are reported in a range of units of measure. While value is reported in nominal U.S. dollars, units of volume are varied.  The primary units of volume reported include: MT = Metric tons.  NO = number, LITER= Liter, KL = Kiloliters, KG = Kilogram, THNDS = Thousands, PCS = Pieces, LITPF = Proof liter, DOZ = Dozen. The wide variation of units complicates the aggregation of volume data. While aggregations of value include data from all commodities, aggregations of volume data only include those commodities with analogous units of measure (e.g., metric tons). As such, volume aggregations may not include all the commodities in a particular commodity grouping.

Commodity Codes

Census Bureau data are categorized based on a coding system, established by the World Customs Organization, called the International Harmonized Commodity Coding and Classification System, or simply Harmonized System (HS). HS is an international standard for world trade at two-digit, four-digit, and six-digit levels. For example, 02 = meat and edible meat offal; 0201 = meat of bovine animals, fresh or chilled; and 020130 = bovine cuts, boneless, fresh or chilled.

Each country has the option of supplementing the international HS codes with greater detail. The United States adopted a 10-digit code system and began using the system for U.S. trade on January 1, 1989. Import codes, known as the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS), are administered by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). (See Background Information for U.S. Agricultural Trade Data for more information on U.S. and international trade coding systems.)


The import categories included in this data product were selected at the HS-6 code level and cover all food groups in the ERS Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System

Of the HS-2 groupings used to classify agricultural commodities and products, the following 20 HS-2 codes were selected as foods and beverages:

HS 01 Live animals
HS 02 Meat, edible
HS 03 Fish, crustaceans
HS 04 Dairy products
HS 07 Edible vegetables
HS 08 Edible fruits, nuts
HS 09 Coffee, tea, spices
HS 10 Cereals
HS 11 Milling products
HS 12 Oilseeds
HS 13 Lac, gums, resins
HS 15 Fats, animal and vegetable
HS 16 Meat and fish preparations
HS 17 Sugars
HS 18 Cocoa
HS 19 Cereal, flour, starch
HS 20 Vegetable and fruit preparations
HS 21 Miscellaneous edible preparations
HS 22 Beverages
HS 33 Essential oils

The HS-4 and HS-6 codes under these HS-2 codes were scrutinized for nonfood descriptions—such as those for animal feed, industrial production, and plant propagation. Codes with product descriptions that have primarily nonfood uses were excluded (e.g., 030110, ornamental fish). Codes with product descriptions that have both food and nonfood uses are included (e.g., 1211, plant parts for food, perfumery, pharmacy).

An index of HS codes comprising each category is included in the appendix of the data product under the tabs HS Code and HS Code Description

The 20 HS-2 codes are combined into 14 food groups that correspond to at least 1 food category in the ERS food availability data (see the Food Consumption & Demand: Availability topic). Each of the 14 good groups is then further divided into key product subgroups, some of which represent various levels of processing.

At the food subgroup level, the top source countries during the most recent calendar year (January to December) are listed and ranked by import value in the most recent year. Total imports by food group are then aggregated to estimate the U.S. food import value in a summary table.

In addition, import volumes are reported by food group and corresponding subgroups. Import unit values are calculated by dividing the import values by their respective volumes to gauge relative price changes among food groups and over time. Import unit values are estimated for the 14 food groups, except for "other foods".

Data Sources

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency records commercial merchandise shipments (imports) by country of origin, dollar value or price, quantity or weight, and U.S. port of entry. Because there is neither a standard unit for trade volume nor conversion measure to transform trade volumes into uniform units, agricultural imports are more readily tracked by their dollar values.

Import values are reported as customs value, defined as the price paid or payable for merchandise at the first port of arrival in the United States (excluding U.S. import duties, freight, insurance, and other charges incurred in their exportation).

Trade data are published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau and are made publicly available via the USATrade database. For documentation, see the Census web page on Information on the Collection and Publication of Trade Statistics.

Monthly and annual data on U.S. agricultural imports are available from USDA Foreign Agricultural Service's Global Agricultural Trade System. Values and quantities can be accessed by HS code and country of origin. Historical data start in 1989 and end at 2 months before the current month.

Strength and Limitations

U.S. Agricultural import data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau are categorized as described above, and definitions of what constitutes agricultural commodities can vary based on definition. For example, forestry products are not included to conform to the WTO and USDA definitions of agricultural trade. Data are subject to revision annually. Value data are nominal and not adjusted for inflation.

By using the Bureau of Census’ U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services data, a comprehensive accounting of trade with the United States can be maintained with the most recent data. To maintain modern HTS codes that are in alignment with other trade code systems, HTS codes are regularly updated. Typically, the main HTS code change occurs with the release of January trade data, although additional changes can occur in a given year. Such changes include the addition of new codes, the retirement of outdated codes and the reassignment of existing codes. To keep in alignment with these HTS code changes, the U.S. Food Imports data set aggregations are updated in parallel. While these updates ensure that commodity groupings are kept current, it is important to note that the commodity groupings change over time and may not contain the exact same bundle of HTS codes from one period to another. This is especially important when using the trade data as a long-term time series. To minimize any such discrepancies, code changes are applied to historical data retroactively. In other words, all historical data reported are continually updated to the current set of HTS codes and the selected aggregations (except where explicitly noted). Due to these ongoing HTS code changes, historical data values are not static and may change over time. 


The U.S. Census Bureau is the official source of trade data used and the Census Bureau maintains a broad set of resources to facilitate the understanding of trade data. For a comprehensive description of official U.S. trade data, see the U.S. Census Bureau's Guide. The Census Bureau’s online trade database USA Trade Online provides detailed U.S. trade data that can be queried by HTS code. ERS compiles the HTS codes into commonly used agricultural product groupings via the Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States (FATUS) database. Separately, ERS provides agricultural product trade data, to and from individual U.S. States, via the State Agricultural Trade Data product.

Recommended Citation

U. S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. U.S. Food Imports Data.