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China’s export performance this year has been stronger than expected. After a sharp slump at the beginning of 2020, the country’s exports have posted positive growth—the only major economy’s to do so. However, a closer look at the data reveals that this growth has not been very broad-based, but rather concentrated in areas where China’s export structure was well-positioned to take advantage of the global crisis—namely, production of medical supplies and school-from-home and work-from-home (S/WFH) goods. Once the COVID-19 crisis passes, China’s exports will likely return to their pre-coronavirus growth path, including a gradual loss of market share to other countries.
The imposition of Section 301 tariffs on about half of China’s exports to the United States has coincided with a fall in imports from China and gains for other countries. The U.S.-China trade conflict also appears to be accelerating an ongoing shift in foreign direct investment (FDI) from China to other emerging markets, particularly in Asia. Within the region, Vietnam is often cited as a clear beneficiary of these trends, a rising economy that could displace China, to some extent, in global supply chains. In this note, we examine the data and conclude that Vietnam is indeed gaining market share, but is too small to replace China anytime soon.
Chinese residents are increasingly traveling to see the rest of the world, logging a total of 162 million foreign visits in 2018, up from 57 million in 2010. Increased travel spending by Chinese residents is acting to reduce the country's trade surplus because such spending is counted as a services import. However, there appears to be a quirk in the Chinese data that results in a significant understatement of the offsetting spending by visitors to China (a services export). According to other Chinese data, this understatement totaled $85 billion in 2018. If so, China's deficit in travel services is smaller than officially reported, and its trade surplus correspondingly larger.
This week, we published our August surveys of regional manufacturers and service firms. Our Supplemental Survey Report, released this morning, reveals how these businesses view the effects of recent trade policy on their costs, prices, sales, and profits. The results suggest that recent tariffs are raising both input costs and selling prices for local businesses, and these effects appear to be more widespread for manufacturers than for service firms.
Mary Amiti, Mi Dai, Robert C. Feenstra, and John Romalis
Import tariffs are on the rise in the United States, with a long list of new tariffs imposed in the last few months—25 percent on steel imports, 10 percent on aluminum, and 25 percent on $50 billion of goods from China—and possibly more to come. One of the objectives of these new tariffs is to reduce the U.S. trade deficit, which stood at $568.4 billion in 2017 (2.9 percent of GDP). The fact that the United States imports far more than it exports is viewed by some as unfair, so the idea is to try to reduce the amount that the nation imports from the rest of the world. While more costly imports are likely to reduce the quantity and value of imports into the United States, the story does not stop there, because we cannot presume that the value of exports will remain unchanged. In this post, we argue that U.S. exports will also fall, not only because of other countries’ retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, but also because the costs for U.S. firms producing goods for export will rise and make U.S. exports less competitive on the world market. The end result is likely to be lower imports and lower exports, with little or no improvement in the trade deficit.
One of the major debates in open economy macroeconomics is the extent to which capital inflows are beneficial for growth. In principle, these flows allow countries to increase their consumption and investment spending beyond their income by enabling them to tap into foreign saving. Periods of such borrowing, however, are associated with large trade deficits, external debt accumulation, and, in some cases, overheating when these economies operate beyond their potential output level for an extended period of time. The relevant question in this context is whether the rate at which a country is taking on external debt has useful predictive information about financial crises.
Mexico runs a trade surplus with the United States owing to oil exports and cross-border supply chains, with imported U.S. components assembled in Mexico and then exported back to the United States. At the same time, Mexico runs a large trade deficit with Asia, the result of a surge of imports from that region over the past two decades. From Mexico’s perspective, this growing deficit with Asia has worked to offset an increasing trade surplus with the United States. More recently, the country’s merchandise balance suffered a substantial deterioration with the collapse of petroleum prices in late 2014. The balance has subsequently staged a modest recovery, as Mexico’s demand for Asian goods in 2016 cooled while the surplus with the United States (excluding petroleum trade) continues to trend higher. These developments have helped Mexico reduce its need to borrow more from the world to make up for lost petroleum export revenues.
Mary Amiti, Caroline L. Freund, and Tyler Bodine-Smith
Supply chains have become increasingly interlinked across the U.S.-Mexico border. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), allowing tariff-free commerce between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, has facilitated this integration. Some critics of NAFTA are concerned about the bilateral trade deficit and have proposed stricter rules of origin (ROO), which would make it more cumbersome for firms to access the zero tariff rates they are entitled to with NAFTA. We argue that measures that make it costlier for U.S. firms to import will also hurt U.S. exports because much of U.S.-Mexican trade is part of global supply chains.
An underappreciated benefit of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the protection it offers U.S. exporters from extreme tariff uncertainty in Mexico. U.S. exporters have not only gained greater tariff preferences under NAFTA than Mexican exporters gained in the United States, they have also been exempt from potential tariff hikes facing other exporters. Mexico’s bound tariff rates—the maximum tariff rate a World Trade Organization (WTO) member can impose—are very high and far exceed U.S. bound rates. Without NAFTA, there is a risk that tariffs on U.S. exports to Mexico could reach their bound rates, which average 35 percent. In contrast, U.S. bound rates average only 4 percent. At the very least, U.S. exporters would be subject to a higher level of policy uncertainty without the trade agreement.
China has been an exporting juggernaut for decades. In the United States, this has meant a dramatic increase in China’s share of imports and a ballooning bilateral trade deficit. Gaining sales in the United States at the expense of other countries, Chinese goods rose from only 2 percent of U.S. non-oil imports in 1990 to 8 percent in 2000 and 17 percent in 2010. But these steady gains in U.S. import share have stopped in recent years, with China even losing ground to other countries in some categories of goods. One explanation for this shift is that Chinese firms now have to directly compete against manufacturers in high-skill developed countries while also fending off competition from lower-wage countries, such as Vietnam. This inability to make additional gains at the expense of other countries means that exports don’t contribute as much to China’s overall growth as they used to.
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