27 Key Facts About US Exports

When I started reporting this story about how two companies' struggles and successes help us understand US exports, I wasn't particularly flush with hard stats on US exports. With the help of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy program, I started tracking down some key figures to help paint the picture of US trade.

Since US trade policy will be critical to growth this decade, I'll be revisiting this stat sheet early and often in future posts. But I figured it didn't make sense to keep it a secret. So here it is -- not an article, but a list of the 27 numbers and facts I picked up over the last few months.


1. We exported $1.8 trillion in 2008 in total. Domestic goods contributed 70 percent and private services -- this includes consultants with overseas clients, licensing of US ideas and technologies, tourism, and a host of other things we might not consider exports -- were 30 percent.

2. Exports grew 14 percent between Q2-2009 and Q2-2010.

3. US exports increased 46 percent overall between 2003 and 2008, double the import growth rate in real terms.

4. Doubling exports over five years -- which is the president's goal -- in real terms hasn't happened since 1949. In 1949, we held 20 percent of the world's exports, whereas today we contribute 8 percent.

5. Canada and Mexico are our largest trading partners.

6. Exports account for 12 percent of GDP when you count services, up from 3 percent in 1930s.

7. For every one billion in exports by a given industry in metro area, wages in that industry in that area increase by 2 percent over wages paid to other workers in the region.


8. When services are included, we export more than any country in the world -- $1.5 trillion in 2009, versus Germany 1.3 trillion, China 1.3 trillion.

9. Services account for about a third of exports, about $500 billion.

10. Overall, the U.S. was a net exporter of services. It exported $507 billion while importing only $371 billion. That's a surplus of $136 billion.

11. Where did the service exports come from? $110 billion from business, professional and technical services, consulting; intellectual property, as measured by royalties and license fees [foreigners pay to make a drug or product invented and patented in the US] was $90 billion; travel and tourism was another $90 billion.


12. We are first in manufacturing, but third in manufacturing exports, behind Germany and China.

13. One in three manufacturers exports (it's one in one hundred for all US companies, but some folks don't like that statistic because it includes mom and pop stores who obviously aren't looking to sell donuts in Bangladesh).


14. Fastest increases in exports between 2003 and 2008 were Wichita (aviation), Houston (chemicals, defense), Portland (computer and electronics), New Orleans (oil refining). They were the only cities to double the real value of their exports in the five years between 2003 and 2008. Multiplying at the national level requires focus at across government. For example, Kansas state government encourages financing for innovation start-ups through the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, which administers the state's angels tax credit for venture capital investment.

15. Exports "support" 11.8 million jobs, 8 percent of the workforce.

16. For every one billion in exports by a given industry in metro area, wages in that industry in that area increase by 2 percent over wages paid to other workers in the region (ie exports help wages).

17. BUT there is evidence that trade between rich and poor countries reduces wages in rich countries, increases the chance of layoff (Brookings says this strengthens argument for stronger unemployment insurance and job retraining)

18. According to the Peterson Institute, US spends less than one percent of annual trade gains on 'trade adjustment assistance' to mitigate effects of trade on poorer workers

BRICS AND EMERGING ECONOMIES19. IMF predicts BIC -- Brazil, India, China -- will account for 25 percent of world GDP in 2015.

20. US exports to Brazil, India, China doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2003 and 2008, but still accounted for 9 percent of US exports in 2008.

21. BIC exports increased 121 percent in those five years, while US exports increased 46 percent overall between 2003 and 2008.

22. What do economists mean when they say, "Not Playing by the Rules"? They're talking about currency manipulation (not just China, also Singapore, Taiwan, Switzerland), high tariffs on US products, or heavy subsidies for pet industries that compete overseas.

23. Current account deficits have coincided with and contributed to (causation, correlation) rapid housing price appreciation across OECD countries between 1990 and 2005 [via Aizenman and Jinjarak]


24. The U.S. and Canada enjoy the largest energy trade relationship in the world. Canada is the single largest foreign supplier of energy to the U.S.--providing 17% of U.S. oil imports and 18% of U.S. natural gas demand.

25. In 2007, total trade between the US and Canada exceeded $560 billion. The two-way trade that crosses the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario equals all U.S. exports to Japan.

26. The U.S. is Canada's leading agricultural market, taking 55% of its agro-food exports in 2007.


27. Some reasons for our under-exports: (a) Dollar is over-valued relative to the currencies of a number of important US trading partners; (b) US companies focus on rapid US consumers rather than overseas customers; (c) many companies lack information about exports and perceive exporting as too risky; (d) other countries put up huge trade barriers.