Chinese and American exporters and importers exchanged a total US$635.7 billion worth of products in 2018. That total for international sales to customers in both superpower nations reflects a 14.1% increase from the $557.2 billion in intercountry trade during 2014.
Although China is the world’s number one exporter with global shipments worth almost 1.5 times higher than those for second-place United States of America, that doesn’t mean that the US is devoid of competitive advantages doing business with its biggest international trade rival.
The People’s Republic maintains many advantageous and profitable relationships encompassing the wide range of goods that it ships to its American customers. China enjoys an abundance of natural resources magnified by generally lower wage costs.
Nevertheless, less well-known is the fact that America enjoys significant trade strengths for products specified below that result in counterbalancing positive cashflows from China, admittedly embracing a smaller set of goods.
China Top 25
Chinese Product Advantages Versus USA
Below are the top 25 goods for which China enjoyed superior trade balances from its exports to the US. Amounts shown were calculated by subtracting what the People’s Republic spent on American imports for those same types of products. Technically, a country’s exports minus imports is known as “net exports” which can be a positive amount (indicating a surplus) or a negative number (indicating a deficit).
- Small portable digital computers: US$35.2 billion (surplus for China)
- Mobile phones: $35 billion
- Modems, similar reception/transmission devices: $13.5 billion
- Computer parts or accessories: $11.9 billion
- Toys including tricycles, scooters: $7.3 billion
- Color TV reception equipment: $5.1 billion
- Video game consoles, machines: $4.7 billion
- Upholstered seats with wooden frames: $4.2 billion
- Digital processing units (individual components): $3.9 billion
- Footwear with textile uppers: $3.8 billion
- Electric lamps, lighting fittings: $3.5 billion
- Specially designed containers: $3.27 billion
- Electric static converters: $3.26 billion
- Cell phone equipment parts: $3.13 billion
- Metal furniture: $3.05 billion
- Vehicle wheels, related parts or accessories: $3 billion
- Computer monitors: $2.97 billion
- Wooden furniture: $2.95 billion
- Floor coverings (in rolls or tiles): $2.82 billion
- Computer data storage units: $2.78 billion
- Miscellaneous plastic articles: $2.77 billion
- Footwear with rubber or plastic uppers: $2.74 billion
- Insulated electric conductors: $2.66 billion
- Electrical machinery with individual functions: $2.6 billion
- Jerseys, pullovers, waistcoats (man-made fibers): $2.5 billion
Among these, floor coverings either in rolls or as tiles (up 302%) and computer parts or accessories (up 103.9%) increased surplus amounts for China fueled by its export sales to America at the fastest pace from 2014 to 2018.
Other top gainers behind Chinese product surpluses over the five-year period are modems and similar reception or transmission devices (up 97.1%), electrical machinery with individual functions (up 93.4%) then video game consoles and related machinery (up 68.5%).
USA Top 25
American Product Advantages Versus China
Sophisticated products large aircraft and key components of integrated circuits represent the leading exports for which the US shows the strongest sales advantages compared to similar product exports from China to America. In third place are soya beans, albeit America’s positive trade balance for that agricultural goods actually shrank by -56.7% from the $16.3 billion surplus for soya beans in 2014.
- Large aircraft: US$15.1 billion (surplus for America)
- Integrated circuits (processors/controllers): $9.2 billion
- Soya beans: $7.1 billion
- Crude petroleum oils: $6.8 billion
- Midsized automobiles (piston engine): $6.5 billion
- Machinery for making semiconductors: $2.8 billion
- Gold (unwrought): $2.6 billion
- Turbojets: $1.5 billion
- Immunological products: $1.36 billion
- Copper scrap: $1.34 billion
- Paper or paperboard waste, scrap: $1.3 billion
- Chemical woodpulp (coniferous): $1.2 billion
- Natural gas (liquid): $1.1 billion
- Cars (electric motors): $1.096 billion
- Cotton (uncarded, uncombed): $1.06 billion
- Miscellaneous medications: $1.024 billion
- Turbojet parts: $1.022 billion
- Integrated circuits (excluding processors/controllers): $892.2 million
- Liquified propane: $863.5 million
- Aluminum waste, scrap: $815.6 million
- Oak lumber: $776.1 million
- Diagnostic or laboratory reagents: $751.8 million
- Physical or chemical analysis instruments, apparatus: $745.8 million
- Grain sorghum: $726.4 million
- Large automobiles (piston engine): $680.4 million
By far the fastest-growing American product win versus China is crude oil, with the US reversing a tiny deficit in 2014 to posting a solid $6.8 billion surplus for America at China’s expense in 2018.
Other top product improvements for the US from 2014 to 2018 belong to oak lumber (up 24%), turbojets (up 12.1%), physical or chemical analysis instruments and apparatus (up 7.9%) and large aircraft (up 6.9%).
The Winner Is
Final Scorecard for Trade War: China Versus USA
Spearheaded by mobile phones, computer-related products and other consumer electronics, China earned an overall $323.7 billion surplus in its international trade with the US during 2018. The positive trade balance for China swelled by 36.6% from $237 billion in black ink for 2014.
From a more granular perspective, trade between China and the United States encompasses has 4,684 products at the six-digit prefix level.
China held positive balances in 3,194 or over two-thirds (68.2%) of those 4,684 goods resulting in Chinese black ink at America’s expense.
The United States prevailed with surpluses in the remaining 1,490 goods (31.8%) traded between the two superpowers, generating a subtotal $111.6 billion American surplus for those 1,490 products at China’s expense.
See also Top African Export Countries, Top Asian Export Countries, Top EU Export Countries, Top Middle Eastern Export Countries and Top South American Export Countries
The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on August 20, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on August 20, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on August 20, 2019
Sorghum Checkoff, Sorghum 101. Accessed on August 20, 2019