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US Trade Data (Huntley 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

20 thoughts on “US Trade Data (Huntley Section)

  1. denatalec20

    It is not a surprise that the United States imports such high volumes of technology products such as cell phones and computers; China and Japan are known to have a strong comparative advantage in the technology manufacturing market. It is also not a surprise that the US imports so many more automobiles than it exports, since the top international car manufacturers are Toyota Motors and Volkswagen. It is unsettling that the US is forced to import almost all of its crude oil and other natural resources, since our economy is dependent on the use of these fossil fuels.

    1. Ruofan Shen

      I think that's because there are tons of crude oils and natural resources in Texas. They've got the most advanced technology and the cost is super low as well.

  2. smithg20

    I found many of the United States’ imports in line with concepts of comparative advantage. For example, it makes sense for the United States to import great amounts of electronics, such as telecommunication equipment and computer accessories as other nations are highly specialized in the production of these goods. The United States also imports a great amount of apparel and other household goods due to this same specialization in other countries. The great amount of importing of oil into the United States followed this similar idea of comparative advantage as the United States is not as well equipped at producing oil.

  3. litvaka20

    Many of the imports and exports of the United States line up with comparative advantage. In general, the U.S. seems to import goods that are more labor intensive to produce, such as cell phones, automotive vehicles, parts, and engines, and computers. Countries that can use their large unskilled labor force to produce these goods more efficiently, rather than produce products that require skilled labor, have a comparative advantage in these goods. The U.S. can gain from this trade as it has a comparative advantage in goods that require skilled labor and, therefore, the opportunity cost would be greater for the U.S. to produce goods that are labor intensive. This can be seen in the large amount of exports in goods, such as civilian and engines-civilians aircrafts, which required a more skilled labor force. Other countries have a comparative advantage on some natural resources, such crude oil, bauxite and aluminum, while the U.S. has a comparative advantage in other natural resources, such as petroleum products and metallurgical grade coal. I found it interesting that the U.S. exports more foods, feeds, and beverages than it imports, therefore raising the producer surplus on these goods in the domestic market. I would not have previously thought the U.S. would have had even a very small comparable advantage in this market.

  4. the prof

    IF comparative advantage is driving trade, THEN what should be the ratio of imports to exports? Either 0 or ∞ ? Alternatively, we should look at a ratio such as (X-M)/(X+M) that will vary from -1 with imports but no exports to +1 with exports but no imports, and 0 with balanced trade. Near -1 is no comparative advantage, near +1 is comparative advantage, near 0 is product differentiation. Appropriately or not, this would treat natural-resource based trade as a form of comparative advantage.

    The empirical "handle" can then be whether high w/r (wage to capital returns) in a home country industry relative to w/r in a trading partner leads to a strong comparative advantage measure with bilateral trade data. Alternatively, look at the dispersion of w/r within a country and see how that correlates with the trade ratio.

    1. Julia Moody

      In the United States, both comparative advantage and product differentiation drive trade. We might have a comparative advantage in producing some goods, such as certain natural resources and products that require skilled/specialized labor, but product differentiation takes over when it comes to consumers choosing by brand preference. As we discussed in class, a consumer might drive a German-made car even though he or she lives in the U.S. because they prefer the German model, regardless of if we have a comparative advantage in building cars. Since both of these principles drive trade, the ratio of imports to exports (in general) should be in between 0 and 1.

  5. gianakosa20

    When compared to other countries around the world, the US has much less cheap, non-skilled labor available. This suits the numbers on the chart -- The US exports complex goods such as aircrafts, and other industrial supplies and accessories. These goods, among others, require highly-skilled laborers that are not as prevalent in other countries, even those with advanced capitalist economies such as China. Meanwhile, the US imports lots of consumer goods (apparel, electronics, and automative parts) that require more non-skilled labor. Other countries presumably have the comparative advantage in producing such goods due to their abundance of cheap labor. The numbers detailing the importation and exportation of natural resources makes sense as well. The US imports wine and beer, in which other countries such as Italy and France are known for specializing. The numbers show that the US exports a lot of petroleum (crude oil, fuel oil, and more), which makes sense, as the US is one of the world's largest oil producers.

    1. Ruofan Shen

      Actually, China is in the socialist market economy system. It is in the process of an economic reform, freeing itself from the rigid panned economy and at the same time establishing and improving a socialist market economy. The establishment of the system of socialist market economy have made new requirements for higher education and the needs of talent cultivation. However, it's still in an early stage of that system, so that's why it doesn't have so much advanced labor force.

  6. laniere20

    Due to specialization and trade, it make sense that the US imports as well as exports many capital goods and consumer goods. What we cannot produce in an efficient way, we import from others who are able to specialize in those products. We import a lot of crude oil as well automotive parts while we export a lot of communication devices and automotive parts as well. We import almost twice as many fruits and frozen juices than we export. This makes sense because of the climate in the United States. Our climate does not allow us to grow much of the food and fruit that we eat, and therefore countries with better climates have a large comparative advantage in these categories. Because labor seems to be cheaper in other places, many companies outsource their labor and therefore the US must import many of those goods.

  7. griffinr20

    In line with the principles about comparative advantage, exports, and imports we talked about in class, it certainly makes sense that this table shakes out the way it does when you think about natural resources. We import a lot of diamonds and other gems because foreign countries have far more of those resources than we do, giving them a comparative advantage. Conversely, our auto industry is strong, giving us a comparative advantage over many other countries, leading us to export automobiles to them in high quantity. Overall, an abundance of one resource or product in one country forces its price to dip below "world price," making it very enticing for these countries to export those products and resources in the manner that they do.

  8. mcconnellm20

    For the most part, the imports and exports presented on the table line up with comparative advantage and and skill intensive imports. For example, the United States imports most of its clothing especially because the labor is cheaper in some countries abroad compared to the United States. In addition, most of the oil consumed in the United States is imported because other countries are more rich in oil. One thing that I found interesting is how many pharmaceutical preparations are imported compared to exported. The United States imports a little over twice as many drugs as it exports. I would have thought the United States would export more drugs than it imports considering how advanced our health care is here.

  9. Oakley

    I found that this list is in mostly in accordance with the principles of comparative advantage. Due to the US economy being largely dominated by service industries and capital intensive/technical products, it makes sense that its largest exports consist of specialized items such as refined petroleum products and aircraft. The US imports a large amount of crude oil and then refines it domestically using processes that are more technical and require more capital. Along these same lines, other foreign countries that have more labor intensive economies export more consumer goods that require less technical knowledge and capital to produce; they mostly require labor to fill assembly lines.

  10. Ellie Bradach

    Other countries have a comparative advantage in technology items such as computers because it is cheaper to manufacture small parts in developing countries with a lot of cheap labor rather than the US. Because the US only imports cane and beet sugar, other countries have the comparative advantage. This is not surprising because the US does not have the right climate or environment for sugar production so the US cannot export sugar at all. The US in this case must import all sugar from warmer countries like those in the Caribbean.

  11. Ruofan Shen

    It's not surprising that corn and other agricultural products are the main export items because of the climate and geography of the US. Arms, softwares, and other high-tech products such as aircraft are no doubt important exports items. Also medical treatment is still a dominating item because US has the best medicine company in the world. And the rest world love to have snacks from popular brand in the US, which could explain why there are so many beverages and foods exported.
    In addition, crude oil becomes an active exports item these years because the change of energy structure and the new technology to fully exploit shale oil greatly reduced the cost. The development of clean also energy plays a leading role. US will finally get rid of the Middle East and does not depend on it anymore in the future.
    There's still one item which is not listed in the table but I think is important: service trade. US provides lots of consulting services covering business, technology and other areas to the rest of the world.
    As for the import side, there are clothes, automobiles, furniture, craftwork, toys, which are mostly light industry products and could be produced from the assembly line. Also cell phones and computer are imported because of the low-cost labor from China and Japan.

  12. andersons20

    All things considered, this table aligns very well with comparative advantage. It is not an anomaly that countries with high amounts of cheap labor available to them export large amounts of goods to the United States and that the United States exports large amounts of highly skilled labor to other countries. This is especially seen in the chart in regards to technology when diving deeper into specific products. If one takes a closer look at the iPhone, one can see that an absurd amount of iPhone parts are from other countries (, great article on this), BUT the iPhone is still "designed in California." A U.S. manufactured iPhone would reportedly be $50 more expensive than the current price, highlighting comparative advantage perfectly.

    1. the prof

      There are several such public studies of iPhone costs – I did not look at this one. There are surely much more detailed studies internal to Samsung and other major cell phone designers (Xiaomi in China would be another). It might make a neat blog post, given the rhetoric about trade imbalances with China, to look at how much of what we import when we buy an iPhone was actually made in the US.

  13. compolir20

    There are numerous examples in the above chart that demonstrate the principles of comparative advantage. The US exports and imports goods based on industries we either excel in or lack. This chart provides an understanding of the diverse array of goods and products. Different geographic regions have advantages in food sales as the US imports large amounts of fruits. Other imports and exports are dictated by labor availability. The US has limited supplies of unskilled labor compared to southeast Asia while skilled and specialized labor is at the core of much of American industry. This is evident in the imports of car parts while we export more technologically advanced equipment such as aircraft parts.

  14. bashamc20

    Many of the goods on the table fall in line with the basic principles of comparative advantage. Regarding natural resources, the patterns make sense in most situations. For example, we import many diamonds. This is largely because we simply do not have the diamond mines that countries like Russia, Botswana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have. Those countries hold a comparative advantage over others regarding the diamond trade. The same can be said regarding crude oil and other countries, like those in OPEC. On the other hand, when it comes to civilian aircraft, the United States has a distinct comparative advantage over many other countries; the number of units we export is over 4 times greater than the number we import.

    I would be very interested in viewing some sort of analysis regarding changes in our export/import rate for natural gas over the course of the last few decades. Since the discovery of hydraulic fracturing, domestic natural gas production has taken off, with a drastically increased available supply as a result of the new technologies.

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