Located along the United States’ west coast and home to movie-star mecca Hollywood, America’s most populous state California imported US$441 billion worth of products from international suppliers in 2018. That dollar amount represents an 8% increase since 2015 and a 0.2% year-over-year uptick from 2017 to 2018.
California is America’s most lucrative importing state well ahead of Texas, Michigan, Illinois and New York. The value of California’s imports equals 16.9% of the overall value of goods imported into the United States during 2018.
Based on California’s population of 39.6 million people, its total $441 billion in 2018 imports translates to roughly $11,150 for every consumer living in “The Golden State”.
Another key economic indicator, California’s unemployment rate was 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 2018. 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): US$29.8 billion (6.7% of California’s total imports)
- Crude petroleum oils: $24.3 billion (5.5%)
- Small portable digital computers: $17.4 billion (4%)
- Cell phones: $13.8 billion (3.1%)
- Computer parts and accessories: $13 billion (3%)
- Modems, similar reception/transmission devices: $12.6 billion (2.9%)
- Large automobiles (piston engine): $9.5 billion (2.2%)
- Integrated circuits (processors/controllers): $9.1 billion (2.1%)
- Small automobiles (piston engine): $5.6 billion (1.3%)
- Solid-state semiconductor storage devices: $4.7 billion (1.1%)
California’s top 10 imports represented under a third (31.9%) of the overall value of the state’s global shipments.
Year over year, the two imported products that appreciated in cost were crude petroleum oils (up 35.8%) and computer parts and accessories (up 28.5%).
Leading the decliners among Californian top 10 import products were imported large automobiles with piston engine (down -31.9%), cell phones (down -28.3%) and mid-sized automobiles with piston engine (down -18.5%).
More Key Facts
Overall, California incurred a -$262.8 billion deficit exporting and importing products during 2018. That dollar amount reflects a -2.2% year-over-year decrease from -$268.6 billion in red ink in 2017.
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 2018.
- Aircraft including engines, parts: $7.3 billion (4.1% of California’s exports)
- Diamonds (unmounted): $5.5 billion (3.1%)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: $4.6 billion (2.6%)
- Modems, similar reception/transmission devices: $4.6 billion (2.6%)
- Integrated circuits (excluding processors/controllers): $3.4 billion (1.9%)
- Shelled almonds: $3.3 billion (1.9%)
- Computer parts and accessories: $3.2 billion (1.8%)
- Electric vehicles: $3 billion (1.7%)
- Miscellaneous petroleum oils: $2.8 billion (1.6%)
- Semi-conductor machines parts, accessories: $2.6 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 almost four-fifths (79%) worth of the total value of products imported into California during 2018.
- China: $161.2 billion (36.6% of California’s total imports)
- Mexico: $44 billion (10%)
- Japan: $33.6 billion (7.6%)
- Canada: $27.1 billion (6.1%)
- South Korea: $16.6 billion (3.8%)
- Malaysia: $14.8 billion (3.4%)
- Taiwan: $14.5 billion (3.3%)
- Vietnam: $13.6 billion (3.1%)
- Germany: $12.4 billion (2.8%)
- Thailand: $10.3 billion (2.3%)
California’s top trade partners in North America, Canada and Mexico, account for 16.1% of the overall value of imported goods into the state. This compares with nearly three-fifths (56.8%) 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 for 2017. 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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