American cranberry farmers are in the homestretch of the harvest season in what looks to be another banner year for U.S. cranberry production. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service has forecast a bountiful crop of 8.59 million barrels or 390,000 metric tons for 2016.1 These cranberries will be featured in sweet and savory dishes across the country, but U.S. cranberries are also featured in many dishes in Europe, North America, and Asia throughout the year. Just over a third of the U.S. cranberry crop will be exported to long-established markets in Europe and Canada, and also newer markets in Mexico, South Korea and China. Demand growth for cranberries is tied to the popularization of sweetened, dried cranberries with strongest demand growth from markets with increasing populations and per capita income.2
Exports of dried sweetened cranberries are a new twist on long-standing cranberry trade, which existed in North America since pre-colonial times.3 Cranberry trade expanded with the domestication of wild native cranberries in the early 1800s in Massachusetts. Many of the British ships setting sail for New England would make their return voyages transporting cranberries for export to Europe and for use as an on-board source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy.4 Today, USDA, the U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee, cranberry growers, the cranberry cooperative Ocean Spray, and other companies are working to expand U.S. exports for year-round cranberry consumption over our borders and across the oceans.
As depicted above, the top market for U.S. cranberry exports is the EU. Notably, processed cranberry exports surged in 2011 when the EU waived the 17.6 percent import duty for dried cranberries.6 Since this duty suspension, U.S. processed cranberry exports to Europe nearly doubled. In 2012 the EU waived the 16.8 percent duty on cranberry concentrate, as well. The duty suspension for processed cranberries is up for review by the EU in 2017, but the trading landscape has changed. On October 30,, 2016, Canada and the EU signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which will eliminate and reduce tariffs between the EU and Canada. Canada is the second largest producer and exporter of cranberries, and through CETA, Canada has secured permanent duty-free access for processed cranberry exports to the EU. Also, Chile—the third largest producer of cranberries globally— signed a trade agreement with the EU and has had permanent duty free access since 2012.7 The United States is the world’s top producer of cranberries and the top supplier of cranberries to the EU. However, a free trade agreement with Europe is not in place. If the EU does not renew the duty suspension on U.S. cranberries, U.S. producers and exporters will have a more difficult time competing with Canada and Chile to service the largest market for processed cranberries.
Cranberries are native to North America and are central to so many American culinary traditions; it can be easy to overlook how important international trade is to this iconic American industry. The cranberry industry is not an anomaly—twenty percent of U.S. agricultural production is exported. Open markets and free trade help American growers develop reliable, long-term markets.