WASHINGTON — Exports of wheat flour from the United States in 2008 plummeted 31% from 2007, based on data provided by the Foreign Trade Division of the Census Bureau in the U.S. Department of Commerce. The drop was especially disappointing since it tended to reverse the 109% gain in 2007 over 2006. The latter increase had ended seven straight years of decreases in U.S. foreign flour shipments.

U.S. wheat flour exports in 2008 amounted to 4,918,000 cwts, down 2,125,000 from the outgo of 7,143,000 in the previous year. While down from 2007, the shipments in 2008 were still well ahead of the modern low in U.S. flour exports of 3,418,000 cwts in 2006. That nadir was reached in a steady fall from the recent peak shipments of 17,752,000 cwts in 1999. Even the latter was well below U.S. exports of 37,442,000 cwts in 1983 when the American government entered into a single year’s competitive response to the European Union’s export flour subsidies.

The all-time peak in U.S. flour exports occurred in the immediate post-World War II years when relief shipments to war-ravaged Europe brought the outgo above 100 million cwts.

Accounting for a startling 48% of total U.S. flour exports were shipments to neighboring Canada. Shipments to Canada in 2008 totaled 2,355,000 cwts, up 31% from 1,997,000 in 2007 and more than double the outgo to that country of 1,039,000 in 2006. In 2007, U.S. flour exports to Canada accounted for 15% of total shipments. At that reduced share, Canada was still the largest destination.

As has also been the case in recent years, America’s neighbor to the south, Mexico, was second to Canada as the ranking destination for U.S. flour exports. But unlike Canada, shipments to Mexico decreased. The total moved to Mexico in 2008 was 695,000 cwts, down 33% from 1,039,000 in 2007 and compared with 804,000 in 2006. Mexico’s share of total U.S. flour trade in 2008 was 14%, against 15% in the previous year.

The third ranking destination in 2008 was Taiwan, at 632,000 cwts, against 288,000 in 2007. No other country accounted for U.S. flour exports of as much as 500,000 cwts. Next in ranking were Kenya with 298,000 cwts and Iraq at 237,000.

Among the major factors accounting for the decrease in 2008 from 2007 was the lack of shipments for Palestinian refugees. In 2007, U.S. flour exports totaled 1,143,000 cwts to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, combined. Also absent in 2008 were 2007 shipments totaling 800,000 cwts to Somalia and Ethiopia.