Trade Scores a Touchdown with Football Snacks

Learn more about Laura Collins.
Laura Collins
Director, Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative
George W. Bush Institute

Whether you prefer pizza, wings, or chips and guacamole, the food on your table plays a large role in international trade.

Every January, Americans gather to watch the College Football Playoff National Championship game and indulge in a variety of tasty snacks. Whether you prefer pizza, wings, or chips and guacamole, the food on your table plays a large role in international trade.

Since 1960, we have exported more agricultural products than we have imported. Feeding the world keeps American farmers and ranchers very busy and makes the U.S. agriculture industry a key component in global trade. This doesn’t mean we don’t still import food. The imports serve an important role in supplying U.S. consumers with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round at affordable prices.

This is just one reason why it is vital that Congress approves the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and actively explore more opportunities for similar trade agreements. The U.S. agricultural industry is robust and it needs the access to foreign markets that free trade agreements provide to stay that way.


Whether you prefer pepperoni or pineapple, pizza is a staple for any football watch parties, and nearly every pizza has three ingredients in common: cheese, flour, and tomato sauce. Each of these is a major player in America’s agricultural trade.

  • American dairy farmers exported over 287,000 metric tons of cheese worldwide in 2016. Nearly 104,000 metric tons went to our potential USMCA partners, with Mexico buying the bulk—nearly 90,000 metric tons.
  • Much of the wheat that is milled into flour for pizza dough is grown in the U.S. American farmers produce a mere 8 percent of the world’s wheat, but they are one of the top exporters in the world.
  • Processed tomatoes, a market that is distinct from fresh tomatoes, is a $2 billion industry and California is the world’s largest producer. The U.S. exports 8 percent of its processed tomato products, with half of that amount going to Canada. Even so, about 6 percent of the processed tomato products consumed in the U.S. is imported, as American “foodies” search out unique or unusual tomatoes from around the world.

Free trade is vital to all the industries that make your pizza so tasty.  In each case, our farmers and ranchers are competing with producers in other countries.  If we pull out of USMCA and give up our privileged access to Canada and Mexico, these other producers will be happy to fill the gap.  With so much worldwide production, any barriers in foreign markets, such as tariffs, impact our farmers’ and economy’s bottom lines. 

Chicken Wings

Whether you prefer a classic buffalo wing or a less traditional flavor, no National Championship party is complete without them. 

American farmers are the world’s largest producers of poultry, and with 18 percent of annual production exported, U.S. poultry producers are heavily dependent on foreign markets. With such a large foreign customer base, U.S. poultry producers depend on free trade agreements to give them the chance to compete in new markets.

Potato and Corn Chips

Potatoes are the leading vegetable crop in the U.S. Approximately half of the total potato crop per year is intended for processing, e.g., french fries and potato chips. The bulk of our exports are processed potato products, with 3 billion pounds of frozen french fries exported in 2009. Our top export markets are potential USMCA partners Canada and Mexico as well as Japan.

Unfortunately, other countries’ restrictive phytosanitary import regulations limit the number of fresh potatoes the U.S. exports – unless we have a free trade agreement in place. Canada is our leading foreign market, importing about $79 billion per year.

Corn is an incredibly important crop in the U.S. with a significant export market. In 2017, the U.S. produced 15.1 billion bushels of corn. A solid 14 percent of that was exported to more than 100 countries. Mexico imports the most at 24 percent, followed closely by Japan at 23 percent.

If you’ve taken Econ 101, you might ask, doesn’t exporting all that production reduce the supply available to us and drive up prices here at home?  In fact, the sheer scale of global markets puts American producers on a much more efficient footing, reducing per-unit production costs.  If those foreign markets suddenly closed and all that production were trapped inside the U.S., prices might plummet in the short term, but so would production and employment.  Whatever survived of our industry would be smaller and less efficient, with unpredictable effects on prices.


The U.S. produces a significant number of avocados—nearly 200,000 tons in 2014. We even export some of our crop to Mexico, Chile, Peru, and the Dominican Republic, among others. But U.S. demand for avocados has grown substantially. In 1989, the average American consumed 1.1 pounds of avocados per year. By 2014, we were consuming 7 pounds per person per year – over a million tons.  

So, guacamole is the lone National Championship snack food on this list that is heavily imported. The U.S. is a net importer of avocados—most come from Mexico. And, Chile is the second biggest supplier.

So as you dip into those wings and guacamole or take a bite of your cheesy pizza, remember the vital role trade plays in your National Championship snacking and thank America’s trade diplomats for opening the global markets that brought the ingredients to your supermarket.