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 on China and the auto industry. 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 improvement in the trade deficit.
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 has 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.
Supply chains, where production of a final good incorporates specialized parts produced abroad, have become increasingly interlinked across the U.S.-Mexico border. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allows 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 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.
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.
Prompted by the U.S. financial crisis and subsequent global recession, policymakers in advanced economies slashed interest rates dramatically, hitting the zero lower bound (ZLB), and then implemented unconventional policies such as large-scale asset purchases. In emerging economies, however, the policy response was more subdued since they were less affected by the financial crisis. As a result, capital flows from advanced to emerging economies increased markedly in response to widening interest rate differentials. Some emerging economies reacted by adopting measures to slow down capital inflows, acting under the presumption that these flows were harmful. This type of policy response has reignited the debate over how to moderate international spillovers.
Monitoring the economic and financial landscape is a difficult task. Part of the challenge stems from simply having access to data. Even if this requirement is met, there is the issue of identifying the key economic data releases and financial variables to focus on among the vast number of available series. It is also critical to be able to interpret movements in the data and to know their implications for the economy. Since last June, New York Fed research economists have been helping on this front, by producing U.S. Economy in a Snapshot, a series of charts and commentary capturing important economic and financial developments. At today’s Economic Press Briefing, we took reporters covering the Federal Reserve through the story of how and why the Snapshot is produced, and how it can be helpful in understanding the U.S. economy.
After a period of stability, oil prices started to decline in mid-2015, and this downward trend continued into early 2016.
Wall Street in the late 1860s was a bare-knuckles affair plagued by robber barons, political patronage, and stock manipulation. In perhaps the most scandalous instance of manipulation ever, a cabal led by Jay Gould, a successful but ruthless railroad executive and speculator, and several highly placed political contacts, conspired to corner the gold market. Although ultimately foiled, they succeeded in bankrupting several venerable brokerage houses and crashing the stock market, causing America’s first Black Friday.
When the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, cotton was king. The southern United States produced and exported much of the world’s cotton, England was a major textile producer, and cotton textiles were exported from England around the world.