Located along the United States’ west coast and home to movie-star mecca Hollywood, America’s most populous state California imported US$408.3 billion worth of products from international suppliers in 2019. That dollar amount represents a -0.4% drop since 2016 and a -7.4% year-over-year downtick from 2018 to 2019.
California is America’s biggest import spending state well ahead of Texas, Michigan, Illinois and New York. The value of California’s imports equals 15.9% of the overall value of goods imported into the United States during 2019, down from 16.9% one year earlier.
Based on California’s population of 39.5 million people, its total $408.3 billion in 2019 imports translates to roughly $10,333 for every consumer living in “The Golden State”.
Another key economic indicator, California’s unemployment rate was 16.3% at May 2020, up from 4.1% as of August 2019 per YCharts.
California’s Top 10 Imports
The following import products represent the highest dollar value in California’s international purchases during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each import category represents in terms of overall imports into California.
Figures are shown at the more granular six-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, for more precise product identification.
- Mid-sized automobiles (piston engine): $25.1 billion (6.1% of California’s total imports)
- Crude petroleum oils: $20.3 billion (5%)
- Small portable digital computers: $15.1 billion (3.7%)
- Cell phones: $11.8 billion (2.9%)
- Modems, similar reception/transmission devices: $11.6 billion (2.8%)
- Computer parts and accessories: $8.3 billion (2%)
- Integrated circuits (processors/controllers): $6.34 billion (1.6%)
- Large automobiles (piston engine): $6.33 billion (1.6%)
- Digital processing units (individual components): $5.41 billion (1.3%)
- Miscellaneous petroleum oils: $5.4 billion (1.3%)
- Small gas-powered trucks: $4.8 billion (1.2%)
- Wheeled toys (tricycles, scooters, pedal cars, doll carriages): $4.7 billion (1.2%)
- Small automobiles (piston engine): $4.6 billion (1.1%)
- Color TV reception equipment: $3.9 billion (1%)
- Solid-state semiconductor storage devices: $3.8 billion (0.9%)
California’s top 15 imports represented roughly a third (33.7%) of the overall value of the state’s global shipments.
Year over year, the four imported products that appreciated in total cost from 2018 to 2019 were individual components of digital processing units (up 32.1%), miscellaneous petroleum oils (up 29.2%), small gas-powered trucks (up 8.7%) then wheeled toys (up 4.3%).
Leading the decliners among Californian top 15 import products were imported computer parts and accessories (down -36.5%), large automobiles with piston engine (down -33.3%), processors and controllers for integrated circuits (down -30.6%), solid-state semiconductor storage devices (down -19.9%) then small automobiles with piston engine (down -17.8%).
More Key Facts
Overall, California incurred a -$267.8 billion deficit exporting and importing products during 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 2.1% year-over-year increase from -$262.4 billion in red ink in 2018.
Another way of saying surplus or deficit is positive or negative net exports. In a nutshell, the term “net exports” quantifies the amount by which foreign spending on a state’s goods or services exceeds or lags that same state’s spending on foreign goods or services.
Below are California’s top 10 export products highlighting the state’s highest revenue makers from international sales during 2019.
- Aircraft including engines, parts: US$7.2 billion (4.2% of California’s total exports)
- Electric vehicles: $7.1 billion (4.1%)
- Diamonds (unmounted): $4.6 billion (2.6%)
- Modems, similar reception/transmission devices: $4.3 billion (2.5%)
- Shelled almonds: $3.6 billion (2.1%)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: $3.6 billion (2.1%)
- Miscellaneous petroleum oils: $2.98 billion (1.7%)
- Integrated circuits (excluding processors/controllers): $2.95 billion (1.7%)
- Other composite diagnostic or laboratory reagents: $2.6 billion (1.5%)
- Medical/surgical instruments, appliances: $2.5 billion (1.4%)
In contrast to the above listed items, California has highly negative net imports in the international trade of automobiles, small portable digital computers, mobile phones and crude oil. In turn, these cashflows indicate California’s strong competitive disadvantages under these product categories thus highlighting the strong impact of foreign-made automotive goods, hardware and unprocessed petroleum on California’s global balance sheet.
The following list shows the top 10 countries that supply over three-quarters (77.3%) worth of the total value of products imported into California during 2019.
- China $129.3 billion (31.7% of California’s total imports)
- Mexico $46.7 billion (11.4%)
- Canada $26.9 billion (6.6%)
- Japan $25.1 billion (6.1%)
- Taiwan $18.8 billion (4.6%)
- South Korea $18 billion (4.4%)
- Vietnam $16.2 billion (4%)
- Malaysia $12.1 billion (3%)
- Germany $11.3 billion (2.8%)
- Thailand $10.9 billion (2.7%)
California’s top trade partners in North America, Canada and Mexico, account for 17.5% of the overall value of imported goods into the state. This compares with over half (52.5%) for top Asian countries that furnish products to Californian importers.
California Import Companies
Fifty-three of California-headquartered corporations rank among America’s leading companies showcased on the Fortune 500 listing. Selected examples are listed below, sorted by highest revenues.
- Apple Inc. (computer hardware, software)
- McKesson Corporation (pharmaceuticals, medical technology)
- Chevron Corporation (petroleum, natural gas, petrochemicals)
- Wells Fargo (multinational financial services)
- Alphabet Inc (technology, autonomous cars, software)
- Intel Corporation (microprocessors, chips, mobile phones, flash memories)
- Hewlett-Packard (computer hardware, software)
- Cisco Systems (telecom equipment, networking hardware)
- Oracle (servers, workstations, storage devices, middleware)
- Gilead Sciences (pharmaceuticals, biotechnology products)
Shown within brackets for each company is a summary of the international trade-related product categories for the main industry in which each business operates.
California’s capital city is Sacramento, nicknamed “The City of Trees” and “Sactown”.
See also America’s Top 20 Export States, United States Top 10 Imports and Top United States Trade Balances
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