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Change in 2012 from 2011:

  • U.S. trade deficit: Increased by $19.8 billion (7 percent) to $321.4 billion
  • U.S. exports: Increased by $6.6 billion (7 percent) to $103.5 billion
  • U.S. imports: Increased by $26.4 billion (7 percent) to $424.9 billion

The U.S. trade deficit with China increased by $19.8 billion in 2012, as U.S. exports to and imports from China both increased by 7 percent over 2011 (figure CH.1). The main contributors to the increasing trade deficit were growing bilateral deficits with China in electronic products (up by $12.0 billion), machinery (up by $4.6 billion), and minerals and metals (up by $3.2 billion). Only four U.S. industry sectors recorded a trade surplus with China in 2012: agricultural products, energy-related products, textiles and apparel, and transportation equipment. The sector with both the largest trade surplus and the largest increase in trade surplus was the agricultural products sector.

China data table

U.S. Exports

U.S. merchandise exports to China increased $6.6 billion (or 7 percent) to $103.5 billion in 2012. The three sectors which contributed the most to the growth of U.S. merchandise exports to China in 2012 were agricultural products, transportation equipment, and minerals and metals. The largest and most rapidly increasing export sector in 2012 was the agricultural products sector, which rose by $7.2 billion to $27.3 billion. This sector accounted for 26 percent of all U.S. merchandise exports to China in 2012. Within the sector, oilseeds (almost entirely soybeans) accounted for slightly over half the value of all U.S. agricultural product exports to China in 2012. China accounted for more than half of all U.S. oilseed exports in 2012 and was the world's leading consumer and importer of soybeans.

China Data Table

The transportation equipment sector accounted for the second-largest increase in U.S. exports to China and represented 17 percent of all U.S. merchandise exports to China in 2012. The main drivers of increased sector exports were aircraft, spacecraft, and related equipment (45 percent of the sector total) and motor vehicles (31 percent of the sector total). China was the leading export market for U.S. exports of aircraft, spacecraft, and parts in 2012, and the United States was China's leading import source of these goods. U.S. exports of aircraft, spacecraft, and related equipment to China increased 25 percent in 2012, after growing 11 percent in 2011 and 8 percent in 2010. For this product category, the vast majority of trade was in aircraft less than 15,000 kg.  Firms such as Cessna and Bombardier reported increased demand for business aircraft in China.

Moreover, China's general aviation industry has expanded rapidly. While the number of general aviation aircraft in China remains low for the country's size and population due to restrictions on low-altitude airspace, reform of these regulations is expected in the near future. Restrictions have already been eased over some small areas, although the date for the China-wide opening of airspace has not been announced.

U.S. exports of motor vehicles to China in 2012 grew by 16 percent to 167,298 units after growing 61 percent in 2011 and 227 percent in 2010. China's sales of passenger and commercial vehicles increased 4.3 percent in 2012. This increase was below the level expected by industry officials, and was attributed to slower growth of China's economy and traffic congestion measures imposed by some large cities.

U.S. exports of minerals and metals to China fell by $1.3 billion (9.9 percent) in 2012, after expanding nearly 40 percent during 2008–11. Within the sector, U.S. exports of iron and steel scrap declined by $991 million from 2011, while U.S. exports of iron ores to China increased by $203 million. For much of 2012, low global prices for iron ore led many Chinese steel producers to substitute iron ore for steel scrap. As a result, China's steel industry reduced its use and imports of iron and steel scrap, even though China's steel production increased.

U.S. Imports

In 2012, U.S. merchandise imports from China increased $26.4 billion (6.6 percent) over 2011. Three of the leading import growth sectors were electronic products, machinery, and miscellaneous manufactures. These three sectors have remained the largest in U.S. merchandise import categories from China since 2008.

U.S. import growth from China was principally driven by the electronic products sector; imports of these goods increased by $12.5 billion (or 7.9 percent) in 2012. Further, this sector accounted for 40 percent of total U.S. merchandise imports from China in 2012 (figure CH.3). Within the electronic products sector, imports of computers and peripheral equipment accounted for nearly one-half of the total (45 percent). Of the remaining balance, one-half (29 percent of the sector total) was accounted for by imports of telecommunications equipment. China is the United States' leading source of computers and peripheral equipment, as well as telecommunications equipment.

U.S. imports of computers and peripheral equipment from China in 2012 increased by 1 percent over 2011, continuing a general upward trend. The majority of the U.S. imports of telecommunications equipment from China in 2012 were cell phones—mostly internet-enabled mobile phones such as the iPhone models that are assembled in China for Apple.

The machinery sector was the second fastest growing merchandise import sector and the fourth-largest import sector by value. Household appliances accounted for nearly one-quarter of U.S. machinery imports from China and over one-fifth of the total increase in imports from China in this sector. U.S. sales of household appliances increased in 2012, largely driven by an increase in residential construction in 2012. U.S. residential construction spending in 2012 expanded 15 percent over 2011, outpacing nonresidential construction (growth of 7 percent).11 Small-appliance sales were also driven by an apparent shift in product mix to higher-priced models.12 Other sectors with rapidly increasing imports from China in 2012 included air conditioning equipment and parts, and electric motors, generators, and related equipment.

The miscellaneous manufactures sector was the second-largest merchandise import sector and registered the fourth-highest volume of import growth (by value) in 2012. More than half of U.S. imports from China in this sector were of toys and games (27 percent) and furniture (25 percent). The value of toys and games imports from China declined 6 percent from 2011, as overall U.S. sales of video games fell 22 percent.13 The value of U.S. furniture imports from China increased 8.3 percent. Imports of metal furniture, wooden furniture, and upholstered seats with wooden frames increased substantially, while imports of seats with metal frames increased less than 1 percent. China is the leading U.S. import source of miscellaneous manufactures, and the largest import source for toys and games and for furniture.

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