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US Trade Data (CGL Section)

Here are two abbreviated tables from the latest trade numbers for the US, for Jan-July 2017. I selectively deleted most "small" items (under $5-10 billion). What patterns do you see? For example,

  1. which exports (imports) strike you as in line with comparative advantage–labor intensive imports, capital- and skill-intensive exports?
  2. how about natural resources?
  3. puzzles and things that don't seem in accord with comparative advantage
Imports, Census Basis 1,351,346 Exports, Census Basis 892,621
Foods, feeds, and beverages 79,502 Foods, feeds, and beverages 80,371
Industrial supplies and materials 296,010 Industrial supplies and materials 263,325
Capital goods, except automotive 364,071 Capital goods, except automotive 305,366
Consumer goods 347,667 Consumer goods 114,921
Other goods 54,521 Other goods 36,003
Imports, Census Basis Exports, Census Basis
Fish and shellfish 12,689 Soybeans 15,189
Wine, beer, and related products 6,465 Nuts 5,206
Fruits, frozen juices 10,375 Fruits, frozen juices 5,157
Cane and beet sugar 900 Meat, poultry, etc. 10,654
Crude oil 81,712 Wheat 4,062
Iron and steel mill products 11,717 Corn 6,879
Chemicals-organic 15,263 Nonmonetary gold 12,972
Fuel oil 11,026 Chemicals-other 17,857
Industrial supplies, other 19,448 Petroleum products, other 28,303
Petroleum products, other 17,066 Plastic materials 20,091
Bauxite and aluminum 9,092 Metallurgical grade coal 4,379
Finished metal shapes 10,881 Chemicals-inorganic 5,146
Computer accessories 33,402 Iron and steel mill products 5,827
Computers 38,928 Chemicals-organic 16,171
Engines-civilian aircraft 11,695 Gas-natural 4,742
Medicinal equipment 22,301 Pulpwood and woodpulp 5,083
Industrial machines, other 32,103 Aluminum and alumina 4,462
Generators, accessories 13,850 Newsprint 7,588
Photo, service industry machinery 12,544 Finished metal shapes 10,635
Industrial engines 14,199 Chemicals-fertilizers 4,898
Electric apparatus 30,055 Logs and lumber 3,944
Measuring, testing, control instruments 12,412 Other industrial supplies 15,453
Materials handling equipment 9,567 Natural gas liquids 7,969
Civilian aircraft 7,845 Cotton, raw 3,525
Parts-civilian aircraft 9,733 Coal and fuels, other 3,568
Metalworking machine tools 6,827 Crude oil 9,918
Telecommunications equipment 43,475 Fuel oil 21,910
Semiconductors 29,474 Civilian aircraft 32,603
Automotive vehicles, parts, and engines 209,576 Engines-civilian aircraft 23,521
Passenger cars, new and used 103,211 Telecommunications equipment 21,784
Engines and engine parts 16,454 Parts-civilian aircraft 13,237
Other parts and accessories of vehicles 61,745 Laboratory testing instruments 6,471
Automotive tires and tubes 6,847 Computers 8,771
Trucks, buses, and special purpose vehicles 20,854 Medicinal equipment 20,376
Pharmaceutical preparations 64,050 Measuring, testing, control instruments 13,645
Jewelry 8,284 Computer accessories 17,440
Apparel, textiles, nonwool or cotton 29,397 Semiconductors 27,058
Other consumer nondurables 8,783 Electric apparatus 25,047
Furniture, household goods, etc. 21,321 Industrial machines, other 32,663
Household appliances 16,207 Industrial engines 14,789
Toys, games, and sporting goods 20,466 Automotive vehicles, parts, and engines 92,635
Camping apparel and gear 7,445 Passenger cars, new and used 31,369
Televisions and video equipment 14,685 Engines and engine parts 11,695
Gem diamonds 13,370 Other parts and accessories of vehicles 34,869
Footwear 10,790 Trucks, buses, and special purpose vehicles 12,079
Apparel, household goods - cotton 25,437 Cell phones and other household goods, n.e.c. 16,337
Cell phones and other household goods, n.e.c. 60,389 Pharmaceutical preparations 30,704

31 thoughts on “US Trade Data (CGL Section)

  1. yuy20

    Since numerous developing countries have a comparative advantage in producing labor-intensive goods (such as apparel, recreational goods, phones), U.S. imports of consumer goods are substantially more than their exported consumer goods. Differences between other categories of imports and exports aren't as large, but we can still see patterns in the U.S. exporting high-skill goods such as medical equipment and industrial machines. Another interesting aspect is in the low levels of sugar imports; this comes from the tariff on sugar and the political influence of domestic sugar farmers. I thought it was interesting that the U.S. imports more pharmaceutical preparations than exports; on the other hand, medicinal equipment import and export levels are very close. It seems that there may be varying advantages in different aspects of medicine. Also, there's export of lumber but no mention of it under imports? You would think a quick trot across the border to Canada would be more beneficial. The soybeans and nut exports make sense; the importation of seafood is due to the comparative advantage other countries have in terms of climate.

      1. yuy20

        I couldn't find exact numbers, but since April, there was a new 20% tariff on softwood from Canada. The US imports about $5.66 billion worth of it every year.

        1. the prof

          Abby, here's a blog post on softwood. The underlying issue is a claim that, because most Canadian timber comes from government-owned forests under long-term, historically contingent contracts, much is "subsidized" (old contracts – "stumpage" – at low prices). That provides an opening under NAFTA trade rules. Now most of Canada is forested, and publicly owned. It's the big export in British Columbia, so also important. Lots of lumber mills around Rockbridge County, so you could follow up from this end – it would make a great journalism project.

  2. lentza20

    Comparative advantage: Soybeans, Nuts, Metallurgical grade coal, Corn, Wheat, Pulpwood and woodpulp, Logs and lumber, Gem Diamonds, Bauxite and aluminum, Petroleum products, other; Iron and steel mill products; Cane and beet sugar;

    Labor intensive imports: Finished metal shapes; Apparel, household goods - cotton;
    Capital: Crude oil; Petroleum products, other; Engines-civilian aircraft; Industrial engines; Telecommunications equipment; Gem diamonds;

    Skill intensive exports: Civilian aircraft; Engines-civilian aircraft; Telecommunications equipment; Parts-civilian aircraft; Laboratory testing instruments; Computers; Medicinal equipment; Measuring, testing, control instruments; Semiconductors; Industrial machines, other; Automotive vehicles, parts, and engines; Cell phones and other household goods, n.e.c.;

    Natural Resources: Soybeans; Nuts; Corn; Wheat; Pulpwood and woodpulp; Logs and lumber; Gem Diamonds; Metallurgical grade coal; Bauxite and aluminum; Petroleum products, other; Iron and steel mill products; Cane and beet sugar

    Others unrelated to comparative advantage: Nonmonetary gold; Chemicals-other; Meat, poultry, etc.; Pharmaceutical preparations; Plastic materials; Computers; Photo, service industry machinery; Measuring, testing, control instruments; Materials handling equipment; Semiconductors; Metalworking machine tools

    THE PROF: I played around with Annie's comment to see whether I could get various formatting options in WordPress to work in comments. For the most part, they don't seem to, despite claims in the documentation. For example, the list functions above (< ul > and < ol >) don't seem to work. Too bad, because she has a list!

  3. Nate Abercrombie

    The given US Trade data shows a clear trend of importation of simple, inexpensive consumer products such as athletic apparel, outdoor equipment, and fashionable items. This is unsurprising when considering that the unskilled labor known for producing such items is drastically cheaper in less developed countries. Additionally, the importation of mechanical and electrical parts juxtaposed to the exportation of engines, motors, and fully constructed machines reveals that the US has a skilled labor force.

  4. Juliana Kerper

    The patterns we studied in class have real-life applications. US imports seem to be smaller, labor-intensive items such as computer accessories, textiles/apparel/cotton, cell phones, and toys. US exports appear to be capital- and skill-intensive things such as aircraft parts, engines, medical equipment, and pharmaceuticals. The US is specializing in exporting items it has a comparative advantage in producing. Some of the natural resources the US is exporting are soybeans and meat. The US receives higher imports of natural resources such as fish and organic chemicals. One thing that surprised me was that the US was not exporting as much corn as I expected it would. Considering the amount in farmland in the US, I would expect the amount of corn exported to other countries to be extremely high. However, I suppose the opportunity cost of forgoing the growth of corn may be lower in other countries. I was also surprised at the high numbers of imports and exports for oil and petroleum. It seems as though the US doesn't have a significant comparative advantage in producing oil and petroleum, because it is receiving the same items in large amounts through imports.

    1. the prof

      Someone: look up the corn price and translate that into tons of corn exported. Is US$7 billion a lot of corn? A significant share of total output?

      Remember too that corn is an intermediate input into meat production, and we export meat.

      What of the import tariff on sugar? How would that affect exports of corn?

  5. gutierrezcuadras20

    Looking at the data, I noticed how the US imports more electronic related items (computers, phones, etc) rather than making them domestically and then exporting them. Since these are labor-intensive items, I suspect that other countries have a far greater comparative advantage in producing electronics. For the US, the opportunity cost to making these electronics must be high since the country instead focuses on exporting other goods such as chemical fertilizers and organic chemicals. I imagine these chemical goods require intensive skill, and so I assume that the US has a comparative advantage in this aspect.

    For natural resources the US imports far more crude oil than exporting it. The country also exports more fuel oil and other petroleum products rather than importing those goods. So i'd say comparative advantage in regards to natural resources is mixed (neither really high nor low).

    I also found interesting how although the US exports many high skilled goods, it still imports more than double the amount of pharmaceutical preparations exports. I figured this good would also be skill intensive and therefore lead the US to import less and export more of the good or at least be about the same.

  6. hermana20

    The U.S. exports a lot of capital goods such as machinery and equipment as well as a lot of industrial supplies and materials. This is in line with the idea of comparative advantage as these exports are highly skill intensive and require an advanced level of high-skilled labor that is found in the U.S. Also in line with comparative advantage, the U.S. imports many labor intensive low-skill intensive consumer goods that it would make less sense for the U.S. to produce given the fact that the U.S. labor pool is less labor-intensive and more skill-intensive. This comparative advantage is once again illustrated by the fact that the U.S. imports apparel items from countries like Bangladesh that are more labor intensive and less skill intensive. It is not surprise that the U.S. imports Gems. Many countries such as South Africa and India have a comparative advantage in gem-mining simply because they have more diamonds and other precious stones within their land. I found it interesting that the U.S. imports parts for civilian aircraft. On the one hand, aircraft parts can be relatively simple to make and more labor intensive rather than skill-intensive, however, it seems as if there are many parts of civilian aircraft that may require more skill-intensive labor due to their complexity.

  7. Jack Grim

    One major export that strikes me as being inline with comparative advantage is the export of cellphones and other household . The U.S. exports around 60,000 units, while only importing around 16,000. This supports a common trend shown in the data of the U.S. having a comparative advantage in smaller, labor-intensive goods. In terms of natural resources, the U.S. seemed to have the comparative advantage in some areas such as fruit and crude oil, but not in other areas, such as soybeans or meat, where they exported great amounts. One thing I noticed that isn't in accordance with comparative advantage is that overall the U.S had more imports than exports for Jan-July 2017. The main reason for this was a striking difference in consumers goods, with imports of consumer goods having approximately 230,000 more units than exports of consumer goods. This seems to show that the U.S is not strong in the production of consumer goods, and does not have a comparative advantage in that area.

    1. the prof

      Jack, you seem to have mixed up which comes from the imports and which from the exports column. We import $60 billion (7 months) in cell phones and other household goods, but export only $16 billion. To my knowledge, there is no significant cell phone assembly in the US, so that $16 billion must be things in the "other" category.

      Note I use "assembly" – most of the cost of the physical product lies in the screen, the central processor and graphics chips, the cell phone radio transmitter/receiver chip and so on. Some of that comes from the US, but mostly such components are from chip "fabs" in Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

  8. wilkinsonw20

    The US has many noticeably comparative advantages including most electronics. This makes sense as the US is highly developed and specialized to produce goods like cell phones with their highly skilled work force. It is also very apparent that the US imports most raw materials like oil, electrical apparatus’, and jewelry for example however exports fully designed products like computers, aircrafts, metal shapes, etc. This also goes along with our knowledge of more unskilled labor forces supplying the rest of the world with their natural resources. One entry that did confuse me was our importation of pharmaceutical preparations at 64,050. We import a large amount of this item however export a relatively large amount of medical equipment and measuring, test, and control instruments. If we export the equipment and have the instruments to test, measure, and control the preparation of these drugs, why do we import them from other countries?

  9. hartigank20

    Based on these tables, the US imports are labor-intensive. They import items such as cane, and beet sugar, crude oil, and clothing items. These goods are imported because other countries have a comparative advantage in producing labor-intensive products due to their abundance of low-skilled labor. This means that the opportunity cost of producing these products is lower in the other countries than in the US. Also, I noticed that the US imports a lot of computers and computer accessories since these products are also labor-intensive. The United States’ exports are mainly skill-intensive, including items like aircraft, automobiles, and industrial engines. This is because we have a larger number of skilled workers than the other countries we trade with. The US imports some natural resources like crude oil, organic chemicals and fuel oil while they export others such as iron and steel and natural gases. This means that we have a comparative advantage in producing some and not in others. I found it interesting that we export a substantial number of soybeans. I wonder who we export to and where soybeans are grown.

  10. Kathryn Martin

    The United States’ Trade Data reveals the reliance on the imports of computers and other technologies, automobiles and related parts, and other cheap consumer goods like toys. Other countries would have a comparative advantage in these fields since they’re able to produce the goods at a lower cost than the U.S. The U.S. has overall fewer exports than imports, so comparative advantage in certain goods is less drastic and obvious. The specialization of labor within the U.S. results in the U.S. exporting high skilled goods such as civilian aircrafts. Imports of natural resources outweigh the exports, which is another sign of our advanced economy compared to countries around the world. I was surprised to read that the U.S. exports of petroleum products outweigh imports of petroleum products. With other natural resources and energy sources, the U.S. imports far more than it exports.

  11. johnsonj20

    According to the textbook, most of the value of phones comes from the manufacturing of display and memory chips, as well as R&D and design. This work occurs mainly overseas. In that sense, our phone imports rely heavily on human capital. The fact that the manufacturing of technological parts holds the most value also explains why our trade of automotive parts and accessories is so valuable.

    I think it makes sense that we have a trade deficit in automotive trade due to the intense competition overseas. For instance, Toyota has mastered the art of lean production to make their manufacturing more efficient. I'm wondering why, out of the goods that dominate our trade like medicinal, telecommunication, and transportation products, our only trade surplus is in the aircraft department.

    As for natural resources, I suppose industrial agriculture has driven our soybean and meat exports. Perhaps it has also increased our reliance on imports like oil and industrial supplies.

    1. the prof

      The term "lean production" was coined by John Krafcik in his MIT master's thesis. The concept became widely known circa 1990, and is now used throughout the global auto industry – GM may actually be better now than Toyota, but any difference is insignificant from a corporate strategy perspective. However, a lower cost base did help Toyota garner market share, and with firms today very similar, market shares remain quite stable. GM hasn't been able to recapture what it lost. Most Toyota's sold in the US are now made in the US, and in terms of content Honda is at least as much an American firm as Chrysler.

      BTW Krafcik's now the head of Waymo (Google Alphabet's autonomous car project), after working for GM, Ford and Hyundai. He's maybe the only one of the MIT International Motor Vehicle Project team of that era whom I've not met.

  12. motturt20

    The US imports labor-intensive products and raw materials such as iron and steel mill products, oil, and consumer goods much more than they export them. Inversely, they export goods such as computers, civilian aircraft, engines, and semiconductors at a higher rate than they import those goods. This is in line with comparative advantage as the US has much more expensive low wage workers than other countries, while also having some of the best intellectual capital in the world, leading to their production of high fixed cost, complex goods and imports of baser items and materials. One thing surprising was the relative parity between imports and exports of medicinal equipment. The US should have a comparative advantage in the production of said equipment, so why export the US-produced equipment just to buy it back from other countries? US medical facilities would assuredly demand the highest quality of equipment, so unless for some reason the equipment we are exporting is sub-par in some way, these exports/imports don't make sense.

  13. Ally Thai

    The United States does not seem to have a comparative advantage when it comes to consumer goods, since the imports are much higher than the exports. The same goes for pharmaceutical preparations, since the imports are about double the exports of that good. The United States does have a comparative advantage in producing civilian aircraft, which makes sense given that it was mentioned in class that United States does not outsource much of construction of its aircraft. It is also notable the United States exports less than it imports.

  14. liur20

    Because the U.S. has a relatively labour cost, we could see a clear pattern that the U.S. imports a significant amount of industrial raw materials. For example, the U.S. imports a lot of Industrial materials, Measuring and testing materials, Telecommunication materials, and pharmaceutical preparation materials. By importing those industrial raw materials, the U.S. could save a lot of resources and focus on more capital and skill-intensive objects. Because the U.S. is a developed country, it is able to produce many skill and capital intensive goods better than the developing countries. The U.S. exports many civilian aircrafts, medical equipments, and etc. Showing that the U.S. has a comparative advantage in more sophisticated and skill-intensive goods. As of natural resources, the U.S. imports a lot of crude oil, Gem diamonds, and fruits. This is because of the U.S. doesn't have that many natural resources in stock for the country's daily use. But because the U.S. is also a country that plants many soy beans, corn, and raises diary, the U.S. also exports many related products. This that seems puzzle to me is that the U.S. almost imports and exports the same amount of semiconductors.

    1. the prof

      One other factor in materials trade: processing is weight reducing, so it often (not always!) makes sense to do as much near the physical source as possible. Iron ore, for example, is pelletized at or near the mine, even if smelters are far removed (they need "met" coal and limestone too). I don't know how general that is.

      Note global dairy trade is constrained by a web of restrictions, the political economy in Europe and most everywhere else resembles the sugar case.

  15. williamse19

    After studying the defense industry this summer, I expected the industry to take up a greater portion of US exports. I remember reading at one point that the defense industry was the only net exporter of US industries. This may not be the case but I expected the exports to be at least more than the auto industry. Anyways, as I expected from our discussion in class, the auto industry imports and exports were large and imports were about double of exports but still a strong export. Again, textiles are in line with comparative advantage. Additionally, natural resources followed expectations. The US imports a lot of crude oil and exports more fuel oil, which seems in balance although that will be an interest number to watch with hurricane Harvey hitting a large oil spot. IN general, it seems the US is exporting items that it takes skilled workers to produce: civilian aircraft, aircraft engines, medical equipment, telecommunications equipment, etc. Meanwhile, it imports the crude parts to make those.

    1. the prof

      Re: defense exports. Someone I always find surprises when I look at this sort of data. Juliana noted lower corn exports than she expected (that's partly an ethanol story, adding it to gasoline drives up the relative price in the US as other countries don't use corn that way). I had thought we might have exports of one or another processed food category, such as wine/beer/liquor. But apparently California wine and Kentucky bourbon don't measure up to global tastes, and even though a student last year found Devils Backbone served in the London airport, microbrews apparently remain local.

  16. Mac

    Like someone said earlier, the U.S. imports the majority of consumer goods from labor intensive countries. This makes sense due to the comparative advantage countries like China or Vietnam have over the United States in good production. It is much more efficient for factories outside of the U.S. to produce certain commodities. One thing that stood out to me was the relatively large exportation of meat and poultry compared to our import of it. This demonstrates the United States' dependency on farming and cattle for a portion of their exported goods. Throughout the list, industrial and chemical materials pop up as large exported goods by the United States which makes sense due to our significant amounts of factories. Overall, we are heavily dependent on imports which almost double our export amounts.

    1. the prof

      We'll see later that trade balances (or imbalances) are due to other factors, in particular a savings-investment (im)balance. Trade theory says nothing about balances, only composition.

  17. Andrew Blair

    the most labor intensive product with a comparative advantage seemed to be electronics. We import way more electronics than exporting them. I found it interesting that the comparative advantage of natural resources like oil products to be neither high or low. While we import crude oil we also export fuel oil. Lastly, I found the comparative advantage of some pharmaceuticals to be puzzling because it seems to be a labor intensive product but we import twice as much of the pharmaceuticals than exporting. It's also interesting because we have the best health care in the world.

    1. the prof

      It's a micro issue, but we have the most expensive health care in the world, by roughly a factor of two. Whether it's the best is not at all clear - though perhaps we are the best at the high end, specialized surgery and treatment for unusual medical conditions. What is clear is that we do not have universal access and we have a poor public health system, so health outcomes are distinctly inferior to Europe, Japan, Korea and no better than some developing countries. We also have severe drug abuse issues.

      Healthcare can become a macro problem if it is widespread enough to affect the overall labor force. It is also macro in that almost 1 in 5 jobs are now in healthcare, much higher than in any other society, despite having a lower share of elderly (Japan is now 23% over age 65, the US is about 15%). The bloated health car sector skews the structure of our economy as a whole.

  18. Kaitlyn Fitzsimmons

    Developing countries have a comparative advantage in labor intensive goods, making them a key player in the everyday lives of clothes-wearing, food- consuming, business-operating people all over the planet. While the United States may be impressive in its square miles of plowable farmland, our influence does not lay in cheap labor or abundant physical exports. While we do export some skill-intensive goods, I’d argue our main export is non-tangible. Due to its large population of educated individuals and the social and political climate of U.S. business, research, development, software, and technology play a larger role in our economy than labor or physical products.

    A factory for intangible but key commodities, such as tech and medical advancement, the U.S. relies on the importation of physical goods, as demonstrated on the table of trade data. In some ways this is politically troubling since the U.S. imports more oil than it exports. This exchange leaves the country vulnerable to losing the natural resource that powers it. This gives oil-supplying nations power over the daily lives of Americans and its entire economy.

    1. the prof

      The tables I posted reflect only trade in goods. You can go to the BEA website and get the details of trade in services. In contrast to the trade in goods, we run a large surplus of exports over imports when it comes to services (which include things such as software, and patent and trademark licenses).

  19. Chris Vogel

    I was not surprised too see that we import a lot more cars than we export (more than double). It did not surprise me to see that we import and export relatively similar amounts of food/beverages. I found it interesting that we import so much more crude oil than we export, but export more fuel oil than we import.

  20. the prof

    For crude oil, think the Persian Gulf: why would we care about the region if we didn't import a lot of petroleum? That's changed a bit with fracking, but we still import a lot of our total energy consumption.

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