Apples are part of the American language: Johnny Appleseed, American as apple pie, apple-pie order, apple of my eye, sure as God made little green apples, the Big Apple of New York City, and here in Minnesota, the Mini-Apple of Minneapolis. So it's a little startling to discover at the website of the Food and Agriculture Organization that the US is actually #2 in the world in apple production, lagging far behind China. In fact, China produced 36 million tons of apples in 2011, while the U.S. produced 4.2 million tons. Other major world apple producers include the far-flung group of Turkey, Italy, India, Poland, France, and Iran.
But even within the production of apples, there is global specialization. The US economy both exports and imports apples, depending on the season, but overall runs a trade surplus in apples. However, the U.S. runs a substantial trade deficit in frozen apple juice concentrate, relying heavily on imports from China. Here are some statistics about U.S. trade in apples from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which are helpfully archived on-line at Cornell University).
For trade in fresh apples, the website of the US Apple Association reports: "Approximately one out of every four fresh apples grown in the United States is exported." The USDA statistics for 2010 show that the main destinations for exports of fresh apples were Mexico and Canada, as one might expect from proximity, then followed by Taiwan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. One suspects that unless the 7 million people of Hong Kong are completely obsessed with eating apples, a substantial share of those U.S. exports of fresh apples are ending up in China.
In terms of imports, the U.S. Apple Association reports that about 6% of all fresh apples consumed in the United States are imported. Roughly two-thirds of those imported fresh apples come from Chile and another 20% from New Zealand--that is, U.S. imports of fresh apples are mainly from the Southern Hemisphere when apple production is out of season here. The total value of U.S. fresh apple exports was $827 million in 2010, while the value of fresh apple imports was $169 million.
When it comes to apple juice and cider, on the other hand, about 85% of U.S. consumption is imported, and about 80% of those imports come from China, according to the USDA statistics for 2010. Only about 8% of U.S. production of apple juice and cider is exported, most of that to Canada. Total value of U.S. apple juice imports in 2010 was $444 million; total value of U.S. apple juice exports, just $32 million.
I will spare you additional data on dried apples, canned apples, comparisons of apple yield statistics over time, and the like. But the main point is that the world economy is full of patterns that I would not have guessed before looking at the data. The notion that the U.S. exports fresh apples to China and runs a trade surplus in fresh apples, while importing apple juice from China and running a trade deficit in apple juice, is one of those patterns. But if you think about varieties of apples, some more suited to being eaten as fresh apples and some more suited to being used for juice, along with the differing transportation costs of shipping fresh apples and apple juice, these patterns make some economic sense.
Note: Thanks to faithful reader Chris Laughton, the Director of Knowledge Exchange at Farm Credit East, for calling the basic facts about U.S. international trade in apples to my attention.