Trade Wars: China Versus USA

Bald eagle, USA symbol

Bald eagle, US symbol

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).

  1. Small portable digital computers: US$35.2 billion (surplus for China)
  2. Mobile phones: $35 billion
  3. Modems, similar reception/transmission devices: $13.5 billion
  4. Computer parts or accessories: $11.9 billion
  5. Toys including tricycles, scooters: $7.3 billion
  6. Color TV reception equipment: $5.1 billion
  7. Video game consoles, machines: $4.7 billion
  8. Upholstered seats with wooden frames: $4.2 billion
  9. Digital processing units (individual components): $3.9 billion
  10. Footwear with textile uppers: $3.8 billion
  11. Electric lamps, lighting fittings: $3.5 billion
  12. Specially designed containers: $3.27 billion
  13. Electric static converters: $3.26 billion
  14. Cell phone equipment parts: $3.13 billion
  15. Metal furniture: $3.05 billion
  16. Vehicle wheels, related parts or accessories: $3 billion
  17. Computer monitors: $2.97 billion
  18. Wooden furniture: $2.95 billion
  19. Floor coverings (in rolls or tiles): $2.82 billion
  20. Computer data storage units: $2.78 billion
  21. Miscellaneous plastic articles: $2.77 billion
  22. Footwear with rubber or plastic uppers: $2.74 billion
  23. Insulated electric conductors: $2.66 billion
  24. Electrical machinery with individual functions: $2.6 billion
  25. 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.

  1. Large aircraft: US$15.1 billion (surplus for America)
  2. Integrated circuits (processors/controllers): $9.2 billion
  3. Soya beans: $7.1 billion
  4. Crude petroleum oils: $6.8 billion
  5. Midsized automobiles (piston engine): $6.5 billion
  6. Machinery for making semiconductors: $2.8 billion
  7. Gold (unwrought): $2.6 billion
  8. Turbojets: $1.5 billion
  9. Immunological products: $1.36 billion
  10. Copper scrap: $1.34 billion
  11. Paper or paperboard waste, scrap: $1.3 billion
  12. Chemical woodpulp (coniferous): $1.2 billion
  13. Natural gas (liquid): $1.1 billion
  14. Cars (electric motors): $1.096 billion
  15. Cotton (uncarded, uncombed): $1.06 billion
  16. Miscellaneous medications: $1.024 billion
  17. Turbojet parts: $1.022 billion
  18. Integrated circuits (excluding processors/controllers): $892.2 million
  19. Liquified propane: $863.5 million
  20. Aluminum waste, scrap: $815.6 million
  21. Oak lumber: $776.1 million
  22. Diagnostic or laboratory reagents: $751.8 million
  23. Physical or chemical analysis instruments, apparatus: $745.8 million
  24. Grain sorghum: $726.4 million
  25. 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

Research Sources:
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