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Since 2007 China has become the United States' principal source of imports accounting for 19% of total imports in 2009 outpacing Canada and Mexico that provided 14% and 11% of total imports respectively. China is also the third largest export market for the U.S. with 6.6% of total exports in 2009.1 Over the last decade the types of products imported from China have changed. Previously China provided low-value, labor intensive products to the U.S., recently, however, China has become the "largest foreign supplier of computer equipment in 2008 with a 53.6% share of total U.S. imports"2 and the third largest supplier of agricultural products with 4.3% share of such products imported by U.S.3 By contrast the major U.S. export to China in 2008 was waste and scrap followed by semiconductors and other electronic components and oil seeds and grains.

The United States and China have several unresolved issues surrounding the bilateral trade between the countries. The trade deficit between China and U.S. has swelled immensely as the volume of imports from China grew much more rapidly than U.S. exports to China from $83 billion in 2000 to $266 billion in 2008.4 The trade deficit slowed down in 2009 due to the global financial crisis that hit many world economies beginning in 2007. However, in the spring of 2010 a renewed upward trend in the trade deficit was observed. This large trade deficit has been an issue of concern for economists and policymakers alike as an indicator of unfair trade relationships.

U.S. Trade with China

Selected Resources

Table of Contents

General Resources
U.S. Trade Deficit & China
U.S. & China Currency Policies
Oil Prices & U.S. Trade Deficits
Statistical Resources
Online Periodicals

Hanjin company container ship at port in the Port of Vancouver
Image (above):
Hanjin company container ship (Port of Vancouver)
Courtesy of Joseph Sams.

Another hot issue has been China's currency policy. Starting in 1994 China kept its currency intentionally undervalued by pegging renminbi (RMB) to the U.S. dollar thus maintaining the same exchange rate for over a decade. In 2005 China reformed its currency policy by making RMB exchange rate adjustable which resulted in almost 19% appreciation of RMB in 2009. However, this policy of a "managed float" with the Chinese government's intervention has been keeping RMB from freely floating based on the exchange market conditions. Many believe that the policy has contributed to the enormous U.S. trade deficit with China by making Chinese exports cheaper than imports and is responsible for manufacturing job losses in U.S. It also helped China purchase a large number of U.S. securities making China the largest holder of U.S. Treasuries in 2008. While for some it is a positive factor that helps fund the U.S. economy, for others it is a concern that it might give China more power over the U.S. Some even attribute the cause of the global financial crisis to Chinese currency rate-fixing as it resulted in current account imbalances.5

Other trade issues with China include safety of Chinese consumer products and food; China's continuing violation of its WTO obligations and its policies aimed at protecting and assisting domestic producers while restricting foreign access to its markets.

 1. U.S. Census Bureau. "Foreign Trade Statistics: Top Trading Partners - Total Trade, Exports, Imports,", as viewed on September 8, 2010.

 2. Wayne M. Morrison, "China-U.S. Trade Issues," Congressional Research Service. Library of Congress. June 23, 2009. p.7. External Link [PDF Format: 291 KB / 30 p.], via the web site of the Federation of American Scientists,External Link as viewed September 8, 2010.

 3. "Global Trade Atlas," Global Trade Information Services, Inc. (GTI). Subscription Database.

 4. U.S. Census Bureau. "Foreign Trade Statistics: Trade with China." as viewed September 8, 2010.

 5.Tony Blankley, "China's currency rate-fixing; Primary cause of the world financial crisis? Special to the Washington Times," Washington Times, April 21, 2009. pg. A.19.

Last Updated: 11/9/2010

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