A High Level Overview Of U.S. Trade Flow


A recent report from investment research firm Sterne Agee offers an overview of U.S. trade flows and major trading partners in 2013. Trade is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. Department of Commerce data shows that total trade in the U.S. came to over $4.4 trillion in 2013, the equivalent of just over 28% of U.S. GDP.

U.S. Trade Flow

2013 U.S. trade and macroeconomic statistics

The SA report highlights Dept. of Commerce statistics showing that U.S. exports totaled a record $2.0 trillion in 2013, a 3.0% increase from 2012, and accounted for 12.7% of total national output. Imports to the U.S. came to  $2.4 trillion in 2013, resulting in a sizable trade gap of $420 billion, equal to around 3% of the $15.7 trillion American economy.

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Details on U.S. imports

U.S. Trade Flow

Of note, well over three quarters of all imports into the U.S. are goods. Goods represented 80% of the $2.4 trillion in imports in 2013, with services the remaining 20%. With more than three times the value of any other item, crude oil was by far the largest single item imported. Imports of crude oil totaled $272 billion in 2013, a 13% decline from 2012, and the trend is continuing in 2014 as U.S. fracking and shale oil production grows. Aircraft imports were the fastest-growing category of goods imported, up 34% or $8.9 billion from 2012 to 2013.

Details on U.S. exports

U.S. Trade Flow

The U.S. was a net importer of goods in 2013, ie, we exported fewer goods than we imported. Goods represented around two-thirds of the $2.3 trillion exported in 2013, with services comprising the remaining one-third. Fuel oil was the single most exported item, accounting for $64 billion in total exports. Of interest, aircraft exports increased the most of any category of  goods, up almost 20% from 2012 with an increase of just over $9 billion.

Breakdown of U.S. trading partners

U.S. Trade Flow

Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey M. Piegza points out that around 25% of all trade in the U.S. is conducted with Canada and Mexico. Exports from the U.S. to Canada totaled $265 billion in 2013, more than any other country by a solid $60 billion. Canada is also the number one nation in terms of total trade (ie, exports and imports combined) with the U.S.

In terms of imports, China has been a key U.S. trading partner for over two decades and the number one supplier of goods and services since 2007. Total imports from China topped $440 billion last year. On the other hand, total exports to China were just $147 billion in 2013, less than both Canada and Mexico, and dropping China down to third place overall as a buyer of U.S. goods and services.

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