A Primer on US Trade

Data on America’s position in global trade markets


How much does the US Trade?


In 2017, the United States exported $2.2 trillion and imported $2.7 trillion in goods  and services.

The total, roughly $5 trillion, is more than double America's total trade in 2001 ($2.3 trillion). 

The trade deficit exceeded $500 billion.


Who the US tradeS With


America's top 15 trade partners include regional neighbors (Mexico and Canada), Western European allies, and East Asian market powers.

Note that the US only has formal free trade deals with three of these countries (Mexico, Canada, and Korea). 

Notice also that America also runs a trade deficit with most of these countries. 


America Buys and Sells many of the same products

The US economy's main imports include cars, oil, electrical equipment and machines. Many of these products are also among America's top exports. 

Close overlap in imports and exports is partly due to intra-industry trade. For example, finished automobiles are composed of parts that cross borders many times during assembly.




Services account for a growing share of total US trade and of exports, in particular.

By 2017, services made up a full quarter of all trade. 

Trends illustrate the shift in America's comparative advantage away from manufacturing. 


how open is the US economy?


Historically, the US government applies reasonably low tariffs (see below). However, the US economy is relatively "closed" according to typical measure of trade openness. 

Openness is measured as total trade divided by GDP. While the United States does a high volume of trade ($5 trillion) it also has a tremendously large GDP. It was just under $20 trillion in 2017. 

That means trade openness currently hovers around 25%, placing the US 166th in the global rankings.


America’s TARIFFS

Tariffs in the United States have generally fallen over time.

The US committed to reasonably demanding tariff binding when joining the WTO and has kept its average tariffs quite low. 

Trade-weighted average tariffs fell from 3.95% to 1.67% from 1991-2016.