China Trade Deficit Reaches Largest Ever In 2018

China’s trade deficit with the U.S. rose to the largest difference ever in the last quarter of 2018 as ongoing trade disputes continue. In October 2018 alone, U.S. exports to China were valued at $9.13 billion versus imports from China were valued at $52.23 billion, resulting in a $43 billion trade deficit for the month.

Over the past twenty-five years, China has evolved from a heavy equipment and machinery exporter to a prominent leader in technology product exports. Large international conglomerates have established an enormous manufacturing presence throughout China, utilizing its cheap labor and quick turn around times. China’s manufacturing plants are among the most modern in the world, producing large capacities almost entirely for export.

As the world’s appetite for electronic devices has grown, so has China’s ability to manufacture and export these devices. As a product exporter, China is able to manufacture and export finished products worldwide. In addition, China is also an exporter of components, which may be used in the manufacture and assembly of products in other countries, such as the United States. By exporting components in addition to finished products, China is able to hedge against tariff issues and labor costs should they become a factor.

Trade with China has grown tremendously over the past 30 years, from nearly a trade balance in 1985 to a trade deficit of $375 billion in 2017. Imports from China were $506 billion while U.S. exports to China were $130 billion, thus an ensuing trade deficit.

Ironically, China’s purchases of U.S. government debt has helped maintain a low interest rate environment, thus reducing loan rates allowing U.S. consumers to finance more expensive Chinese imports such as big screen TVs, cell phones and computers.

Sources: WTO, IMF, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, FRED

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