31 Interesting Facts About International Trade

Helen Mann | June 2, 2021 | Import Basics, Export Basics
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31 Facts About the State of International Trade | Shipping SolutionsWhat a year and a half we’ve had. 2020 kicked off with the coronavirus spreading around the world, and concluded with a peak season that put all other peak seasons to shame. Global GDP slowed down by 4-5%, depending on who you ask. Supply chains had just enough time to fall apart before having to ramp up to meet e-commerce and vaccine distribution demands (at the same time, of course).

Not that 2021 hasn’t come with its share of excitement. Nearly halfway into the year, shippers are still dealing with the fallout from a week-long obstruction in the Suez Canal while imports continue to pile up on both coasts. 

In honor of World Trade Month, which wrapped up in May, we put together 31 facts about world trade last year. Here are a few things that happened to imports and exports once COVID-19 sank its claws into the world:

  1. The WTO estimates a 7.2% improvement in international trade in 2021, after seeing a 9.2% decline in 2020. 
  2. Globally, imports and exports shrank 14.3% from the first to the second quarter of 2020, the sharpest one-period contraction on record. Merchandise exports from North America contracted 21.8% during that time period. 
  3. The United States was the second largest importer and exporter of goods related to combating COVID-19 behind China in the first half of 2020.
  4. Worldwide, medical product exports grew 15.4% in the first half of 2020 and COVID-critical products grew 27.3%. Imports and exports of medical goods reached $1.14 trillion. 
  5. In 2018 and 2019, the United States imposed tariffs on more than $300 billion in imports from China. In response, China imposed tariffs on $110 billion in American goods and shifted some business away from the United States. 
  6. In January 2020, as part of a phase one trade deal, the United States cuts tariffs on certain Chinese imports. China pledged to boost American export purchases by $200 billion above 2017 levels, over a two year period, in return. 
  7. Based on 2017 Census Bureau statistics, the target for U.S. exports to China in 2020 was $159.0 billion. The United States exported $93.7 billion to China in 2020, only reaching 59% of the target, despite China’s pledge to spend more. 
  8. The United States trade deficit rose from $577 billion to $682 billion in 2020. Within that, U.S. trade in goods with the world reached $3.77 trillion in 2020, a 9% drop from 2019.
  9. The United States exported $1.4 trillion worth of goods to the rest of the world in 2020. In 2019, the United States exported $1.7 trillion, and in 2018, the United States exported $1.6 trillion.
  10. Canada was the United States’ top export destination in 2020, receiving $255 billion in exports, followed by Mexico and China. 
  11. Imports and exports between the United States and China, Mexico and Canada made up nearly 50% of U.S. trade in 2020.
  12. Most Americans held a favorable view of international trade in 2020. A Gallup poll found that 79% of Americans saw trade as an “opportunity for economic growth,” the highest rate in more than two decades. Only 18% of respondents said that international trade is “a threat to the economy from foreign imports,” down from 34% in 2016. 
  13. U.S. exports shrank 16.5% in the first half of 2020. The decline was even larger for FTA countries at 19% and 21.6% for USMCA countries. 
  14. The U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement and U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement both entered into force on Jan. 1, 2020. These agreements lower or eliminate tariffs on $7.2 billion of U.S. agricultural exports and prohibit duties on digital products, such as software, e-books and music.
  15. Shipping Solutions Demo VideoThe United States’ top five trade partners in 2020, from largest to smallest, were China, Mexico, Canada, Japan and Germany.
  16. The largest U.S. export commodities by value in 2020 were civilian aircraft and parts, gasoline, oil, passenger vehicles and computer chips.
  17. U.S. aircraft exports fell 43% from 2019 to 2020. 
  18. U.S. automotive exports fell 21% from 2019 to 2020. 
  19. Service exports declined by about 20% in 2020: travel and transport fell, but other categories, such as financial services and intellectual property, have recovered or even slightly exceeded 2019 levels
  20. The United States had trade surpluses with 135 countries and deficits with 98 countries through November 2020.
  21. Exports of goods and services made up 12.0% of GDP in the first quarter of 2019, then dropped slightly to 11.8% in the second quarter, and shrank to 11.6% of GDP in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

    In comparison, goods and services exports slipped to 11.3% of GDP in the first quarter of 2020, before tumbling to 9.2% in the second quarter. Exports recovered to 9.8% of GDP in Q3 and 10.3% in Q4 of 2020.
  22. On July 1, 2020, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement went into effect, replacing NAFTA. The International Trade Commission predicts that it will increase U.S. exports to Canada by $19.1 billion and U.S. exports to Mexico by $14.2 billion by its sixth year. 
  23. The November 2020 trade in goods deficit in the United States was the highest on record, at $86.4 billion.
  24. The top 10 exporting states by value in 2020 were:

    1. Texas: $279.3 billion
    2. California: $156.1 billion
    3. New York: $61.9 billion
    4. Louisiana: $59.6 billion
    5. Illinois: $53.5 billion
    6. Florida: $45.8 billion
    7. Ohio: $45.0 billion
    8. Michigan: $44.0 billion
    9. Washington: $41.3 billion
    10. Georgia: $38.8 billion
  25. The largest export for each state was:

    Alabama: Passenger motor vehicles with spark ignition inter (HS code 870323)
    Alaska: Zinc ores and concentrates (HS code 260800)
    Arizona: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Arkansas: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    California: Motor vehicles with only motors (HS code 870380)
    Colorado: Meat of bovine animals (HS code 020130)
    Connecticut: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Delaware: Medicaments in measured doses (HS code 300490)
    Florida: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Georgia: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Hawaii: Ferrous waste and scrap (HS code 720449)
    Idaho: Photosensitive semiconductor devices (HS code 854140)
    Illinois: Medicaments in measured doses (HS code 300490)
    Indiana: Medicaments in measured doses (HS code 300490)
    Iowa: Corn, other than seed corn (HS code 100590)
    Kansas: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Kentucky: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Louisiana: Soybeans, other than seed (HS code 120190)
    Maine: Lobsters, live, fresh, or chilled (HS code 030632)
    Maryland: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Massachusetts: Gold, non-monetary, unwrought (HS code 710812) 
    Michigan: Motor vehicles for goods transport (HS code 870431)
    Minnesota: Light oils and preparations containing GT=70% By Weight (HS code 271012)
    Mississippi: Petroleum oils, oils from bituminous minerals (HS code 271019)
    Missouri: Motor vehicles for goods transport (HS code 870431)
    Montana: Coal, other than anthracite or bituminous (HS code 270119)
    Nebraska: Meat of bovine animals (HS code 020130)
    Nevada: Gold, non-monetary, unwrought (HS code 710812)
    New Hampshire: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    New Jersey: Palladium, unwrought or in powder form (HS code 711021)
    New Mexico: Parts and accessories for automatic data processing (HS code 847330)
    New York: Diamonds, nonindustrial, worked (HS code 710239)
    North Carolina: Immunological products, put up in measured doses (HS code 300215)
    North Dakota: Light oils and preparations containing GT=70% By Weight (HS code 271012)
    Ohio: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Oklahoma: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Oregon: Processors and controllers, electronic integrated circuits (HS code 854231)
    Pennsylvania: Medicaments in measured doses (HS code 300490)
    Rhode Island: Waste and scrap of precious metal (HS code 711299)
    South Carolina: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    South Dakota: Brewing or distilling dregs and waste (HS code 230330)
    Tennessee: Instruments and appliances for medical, surgical, or veterinary sciences (HS code 901890)
    Texas: Petroleum oils and oils from bituminous minerals (HS code 270900)
    Utah: Gold, non-monetary, unwrought (HS code 710812)
    Vermont: Electronic integrated circuits (HS code 854239)
    Virginia: Bituminous coal whether or not pulverized (HS code 270112)
    Washington: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    West Virginia: Bituminous coal whether or not pulverized (HS code 270112)
    Wisconsin: Civilian aircraft, engines, and parts (HS code 880000)
    Wyoming: Disodium carbonate (HS code 283620)

  26. According to the International Trade Administration, 86,258 U.S. firms export to Canada. Of those, 59.9% have 20 employees or fewer.
  27. The International Trade Administration reports that 57,098 U.S. firms export to Mexico. Of those, 57.7% have fewer than 20 employees.
  28. The International Trade Administration estimates that 10.7 million U.S. jobs were directly supported by exports in 2019.
  29. The Bureau of Industry and Security approved 28,223 export licenses in 2019. 
  30. The top 10 U.S. exporters:

    1. Koch Industries
    2. International Paper
    3. America Chung Nam
    4. DeLong
    5. ExxonMobile Chemical
    6. Louis Dreyfus Company
    7. International Forest Products
    8. West Rock
    9. BMW of North America
    10. Shintech
  31. The top 10 U.S. importers:

    1. Walmart
    2. Target
    3. Home Depot
    4. Lowes
    5. Ashley Furniture
    6. Dole Foods
    7. Samsung America
    8. Family Dollar Stores/Dollar Tree
    9. LG Group
    10. Chiquita Brands International

There was a lot of not-so-great news for shippers last year, but things are starting to look up. The economy is roaring back to life, aided by increasing availability of vaccines. Americans are returning to work. Demand for consumer goods hasn’t gone anywhere. We hope that it translates into a great year for importers and exporters.

Would you like to learn more about the state of global trade? Watch my free webinar, International Trade Snapshot: Past, Present and Future. I take a detailed look at how lockdowns, trade wars, economic upheaval, backlogs at ports and changes in demand affected trade in the last year and when we can expect to see a full recovery.  


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