WASHINGTON (UPI)--U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said they expect farm-related exports to increase by $4 billion during 2003.

Officials said Aug. 30 they expect exports during the upcoming year to total $57.5 billion, an increase from the $53.5 billion estimated for this year.

If 2003 exports are that high, it would be the second-highest year ever. The record was set in 1996, when export sales totaled $59.9 billion.

"This forecast for next year is very encouraging," Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said. "We will continue to aggressively use our market development and expansion programs to increase exports in the next five 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 Congress' recent approval of Trade Promotion Authority for President George W. Bush helps to boost a number of current negotiations to open markets internationally under the World Trade Organization.

"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," Veneman said.

The 7.5% increase in forecast value is mainly due to higher prices for grains and oilseeds.

But bulk commodity volume is forecast to fall 4.6 million tons because of reduced soybean shipments. Export volumes are expected to rise for field crops such as corn, rice and cotton.

USDA also is forecasting modest increases in the value of livestock and poultry products of $500 million, and a $300 million increase for horticulture.

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