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Friday, May 21, 2010

U.S. International Trade: Trends and Forecasts

Dick K. Nanto
Specialist in Industry and Trade

J. Michael Donnelly
Information Research Specialist

The U.S. trade deficit was shrinking through June 2009 because of the global financial crisis but has begun to increase again. The crisis caused U.S. imports to drop faster than U.S. exports. The global simultaneous recession, however, implies that exporting countries cannot rely on increased foreign demand to make up for slack demand at home. Even though U.S. imports are down considerably from 2008, companies competing with imports still face diminishing demand as the domestic economy has been hit by recession. These conditions imply that the political forces to protect domestic industry from imports are likely to intensify both in the United States and abroad. 

In 2009, the trade deficit in goods reached $517.0 billion on a balance of payments (BoP) basis, less than the $840.3 in 2008 and $831 billion in 2007. The 2008 deficit on merchandise trade with China was $227 billion (Census basis), with the European Union was $60.5 billion, with Canada was $20.2 billion, with Japan was $44.8 billion, with Mexico was $47.5 billion, and with the Asian Newly Industrialized Countries (Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan) moved from a deficit of $5.5 billion in 2007 to a surplus of $2.2 billion in 2008 and a surplus again in 2009 of $3.6 billion. Imports of goods of $1,562.6 billion decreased by $554.7 billion, 26.2% over 2008. Exports of goods of $1,045.5 billion fell by $231.5 billion, 18.1%. The overall merchandise trade deficit for 2009 improved, or rose, by $323.2 billion, or roughly 38.5%. In the fourth quarter of 2008, as the U.S. recession worsened, imports declined faster than exports resulting in monthly trade deficits declining from August 2008 through February 2009. In 2009 goods imports reached their lowest recent level in May, at $119.2 billion. In 2009 goods exports fluctuated near $82 billion through May when they began to increase at about two billion monthly, reaching $99.1 billion in December. 

Trade deficits are a concern for Congress because they may generate trade friction and pressures for the government to do more to open foreign markets, to shield U.S. producers from foreign competition, or to assist U.S. industries to become more competitive. Overall U.S. trade deficits reflect excess spending (a shortage of savings) in the domestic economy and a reliance on capital imports to finance that shortfall. Capital inflows serve to offset the outflow of dollars used to pay for imports. Movements in the exchange rate help to balance trade. The rising trade deficit (when not matched by capital inflows) places downward pressure on the value of the dollar which, in turn, helps to shrink the deficit by making U.S. exports cheaper and imports more expensive. Central banks in countries such as China, however, have intervened in foreign exchange markets to keep the value of their currencies from rising too fast. Bills in the 111th Congress relating to trade include: H.R. 3012/S. 2821, H.R. 496/S. 1466, H.R. 1875, S. 3103, S. 3134, S. 1254, S. 1027, H.R. 2378, H.Res. 934, H.Res. 987, and H.Res. 1124. 

The balance on current account includes merchandise trade plus trade in services and unilateral transfers. In 2009, the deficit on current account fell to $419.9 billion from $706.1 billion in 2008 and $726.6 billion in 2007. IHS Global Insight forecasts higher deficits on current account for 2010, at $552.2 billion, and 2011, at $625.9. In trade in advanced technology products, the U.S. balance improved from a deficit of -$61 billion in 2008 to -$56 billion in 2009. In trade in motor vehicles and parts, the $106.6 billion U.S. deficit in 2008 was mainly with Japan, Mexico, and Germany

Date of Report: May 7, 2010
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL33577
Price: $29.95

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