Second, it is a fair reflection of the complementarity and comparative strengths of Chinese and US industries. In terms of trade mix, China’s trade surplus with the US mainly comes from labor-intensive products and manufactured goods, and its trade deficit with the US lies in capital- and technology-intensive products such as aircraft, integrated circuits, and automobiles, as well as agricultural products. In 2017, China ran a US$16.4 billion trade deficit with the US in agricultural products, accounting for 33% of China’s total trade deficit in the agricultural sector; a US$12.75 billion trade deficit with the US in aircraft, accounting for 60% of China’s total trade deficit in this sector; China also ran a US$11.7 billion deficit in automobile trade with the US. Therefore, the imbalance in trade in goods is a result of voluntary market choices where both countries have played to their industrial competitive strengths.
Third, it is a result of the international division of labor and the changing configuration of production locations by multinational companies. As the global value chain and international division of labor expand, multinational companies have come to establish factories in China to assemble and manufacture products and sell them to the US and the global market, thanks to China’s low production costs, strength in auxiliary production, and reliable infrastructure. When it comes to players in foreign trade, according to China Customs, 59% of China’s trade surplus with the US was contributed by foreign-invested enterprises in China in 2017. In the process of receiving international industrial relocation and joining the Asia-Pacific industrial network, China has, to a large extent, taken over the trade surpluses of Japan, the ROK and other East Asian economies with the US. According to US BEA, the shares of Japan, the ROK and other East Asian Economies in the total US trade deficit have declined from 53.3% in 1990 to 11% in 2017, while China’s trade surplus with the US has risen from 9.4% to 46.3% in the same period. (Chart 5)
Chart 5: How the Regional Components of US Foreign Trade Deficit Changed (1990-2017)
Source: UN COMTRADEdatabase, Bureau of Economic Analysis, USDOC.