In Top 10 U.S. Exports For 2017, Three Countries Keep Popping Up: China, Canada And Mexico
In the last quarter century, U.S. exports have grown from $448.16 billion to $1.55 trillion.
That's a lot of cotton and corn, gold and diamonds, wheat and soybeans. It's quite a few medical devices and medicines, motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts, jets and jet engines. It's a lot of chicken and beef, citrus and almonds, and so much more.
In that time, the United States has gone from having 86 export categories valued at more than $1 billion in value to having 248 above $1 billion, the final tally for 2017.
We have gone from having six of the roughly 1,265 export categories above $10 billion in 1993 to 22 today. While none topped $100 billion a quarter century ago, one does today: aircraft and related parts.
Imports have also grown rapidly in the time, as well, as has the United States' trade deficit. But the balance of trade -- the ratio between exports and imports -- is little changed, having gone from 44 cents of every dollar in U.S. trade being an export to 40 cents in 2017.
Most of the growth rests with the top 10 exports, not surprisingly.
Here is a closer look at the top 10 U.S. exports in 2017, based on U.S. Census data analyzed by WorldCity, the company where I serve as president. I have done previous columns on the top 10 trade partners and the top 10 airports, seaports and border crossings. One will follow on the top 10 imports.
Aircraft. This is overwhelmingly the United States' most valuable export, with a value one-third greater than the No. 2-ranked export. And the top market, one-third greater than the No. 2 market, is China. For this reason, it is safe to say that Boeing would not be entirely interested in trade war with China.
Gasoline. The value of exports in this category, which includes not only gasoline but other refined petroleum products, has grown rapidly in recent years, only to tumble with falling oil prices more recently. It is the only other U.S. export to have topped $100 billion in annual value, which occurred from 2012 through 2014. In 2017, the total was $77.48 billion. The top two markets are Mexico, with 27% of the exports, and Canada, with 11%. Just as Boeing would be nervous about a trade war with China, so too would the refinery industry in Texas and along the Gulf Coast be nervous about anything that would endanger NAFTA.
Motor vehicles. This year, according to industry projections, foreign motor vehicle manufacturers will produce more cars and trucks in the United States than U.S. manufacturers. Fourteen ports exported more than $1 billion each of them last year. A majority of those exports go to three of the top four destinations: Canada, China and Mexico, accounting for 52.3% of the total. Ranked third, behind Canada and China and ahead of Mexico, is Germany, with 12% market share.
Motor vehicle parts. With as many cars and trucks as exist around the world, it is hardly surprising that motor vehicle part exports would be riding the bumper of the No. 3 export. Almost 75% of all U.S. exports headed to either Canada (38%) or Mexico (36%) last year, which is why the automotive industry has been among the most panicked by talks of NAFTA disruption. Toss in another 5.1% for the third-leading market, China.
Computer chips. The fifth U.S. export is the first "modern" export, since the four top are representative not of the information age but the industrial age. It is also the first export that principally flies. More than 50% of the exports leave from just four airports, Los Angeles International, Dallas-Fort Worth International, San Francisco International and Cleveland's Hopkins International. Mexico and China, the two top markets, account for 41% of the total.
Low-value shipments. This is a bit of an odd-ball category. It is for exports valued at less than $2,500 but there is little more than can be discerned. Think small packages shipped by the express carriers. Didn't used to be such a big business but e-commerce is changing all that -- and supply chains globally as well as domestically. Ranked as the nation's seventh most valuable export in 2016, it ranked No. 6 in 2017. Two biggest markets? Canada and Mexico, with 26% and 19% market share, respectively.
Cell phones. This is the second export that is part of the information rather than the industrial age, though it differs from computer chips in a couple of ways. First, there was never really a significant cell phone industry in the United States, while there was one for computer chips. Second, there still isn't a cell phone industry in the United States, so these are essentially imported phones and related equipment being shipped back out into the world. Canada and Mexico account for 25% of the total. The leading gateway is Miami International Airport, which caters primarily to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Medical instruments. Here is the third export from the information age -- sort of -- as opposed to the industrial age. While this does include medical equipment as mundane as sutures, it also includes the latest and most advanced medical equipment. These exports have set a record most years for the last two decades, including the last four. Although China, Canada and Mexico still accounted for 26.1% of all U.S. exports in 2017, this is the first top 10 export where they are not among the top three markets. Those are the Netherlands, Belgium and Japan. Eight of the top 10 gateways are airports.
Computers. This is an information age product that we essentially invented and have subsequently largely outsourced to China. The record year for exports was in 2000, when the total topped $30 billion for the first and only time. The 2017 total was $25.34 billion, a 4% increase over 2016. Top three markets? You guessed it: Canada (23%), Mexico (18%) and China (5.4%). Our imports of computers totaled $7.22 billion in 2017, with 60% from China and 24% from Mexico.
Petroleum gases. Think LNG, or liquid natural gas, and you are thinking of the right thing. This is the fastest-growing top 10 export by far, up 68% in 2017 over the previous year total. The five-year growth rate is 153.02% compared to just 0.07% for all exports. This one, while essentially an industrial-age product, is becoming such an enormous export because of modern-day technology, as is hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, in the United States. Three of the top four markets are Mexico (20%), Canada (13%) and China (11%).
A couple of things are apparent in this look at top 10 exports. First, in attempting to get better trade deals with our top three trade partners, China, Canada and Mexico, the Trump Administration will continue to face some pretty fierce and well-financed resistance from companies who depend on them for their exports. Not that will necessarily deter or otherwise sway the administration. Second, the top 10 is a nice mixture of industrial age and information age exports, the new and the old.