The Economist has just released its 2020 edition of the World in Figures. The world rankings compare 185 countries on a range of indicators. It is fascinating, especially as a backdrop to the U.S.-China trade issues, and other trade agreements.

China continues to have the largest population, 1.4 billion people, followed closely by India, with the USA third at population of 325 million. Russia, Canada, the USA, China and Brazil are the largest in terms of area. 

The biggest economy is still the USA, but China is catching up. Japan, Germany, India, the UK and France then follow. Curiously, however, The Economist lists China as having more purchasing power than the USA, followed by India, Japan and Germany.

Europe exports more than anyone else; the USA is the second biggest exporter with China in third place. China has the largest industrial output followed by the USA, Japan, Germany and India. 

When it comes to agriculture, China is dominant in many categories. China has the largest agriculture output, double that of India, and almost five times the USA. China is the biggest producer of cereals, meat, fruit, vegetables, roots and tubers, rice and fisheries and aquaculture production. 

The USA is first in the production of coarse grains and oil seeds, which includes soybeans, canola, cottonseed, sunflower, and groundnuts (peanuts). We are second in the production of cereals and meat, fourth in fruit; we are not on the chart for the production of vegetables. 

Wheat, the staff of life, is interesting. The EU28 is the top producer (it does not break down the EU by country) followed by China, India, Russia, the USA and Canada.

Looking beyond agriculture, in the energy sector, the USA is first in the production of both oil and natural gas; second in the production of coal.

We are spending more on research and development, across the board, than any other country; double that of China, followed by Japan, Germany and South Korea. The Economist then lists an interesting category: Entrepreneurial Activity which they define as the percentage of the population who are entrepreneur or owner-manager of a new business.

The category of “Entrepreneurial Activity” is dominated by African countries, including Nigeria, Zambia, Senegal, Uganda, Cameroon, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Ghana. Six of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa. 

Much of the African economic activity is in agriculture as that is the sector that employs the majority of the population, and explains why almost 3,000 visitors from around the world attended the 2019 African Green Revolution Forum in Ghana.

In short, it is a big world with a global population of 7.5 billion people, heading to 9.5 billion. That will place a huge demand on the production of food. Not only is the population growing but there will be greater demand for protein as income increases. Climate change is going to further complicate the world’s ability to respond to the increased demand for food.

The USA must continue its leadership in agriculture research and technology or lose its global advantage. Israel is the global leader in the efficient use of fresh water and there are several countries challenging us when it comes to biotechnology and newer technologies.

Agriculture employs 28% of those in the workforce worldwide, but only generates 4% of the GDP. It will be a challenging future for those of us in agriculture.

The USA leads in many other categories, but life expectancy is not one of them. There we are 48th in the world.  We do not show up in a list of the countries with the lowest infant mortality and we are second highest in a ranking of the most obese countries, behind Kuwait, and just ahead of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.