U.S. merchandise imports: trend and structure

The World Trade Organization (WTO) made an assessment of the trend and structure of U.S. merchandise imports and exports from mid-2018 to early 2022.

Both U.S. merchandise imports and exports declined during the early part of that period.

Merchandise trade by major HS Sections, 2018 and 2021.

The decline was most significant for exports (-14.1 percent), almost double compared to that for imports (-7.9 percent).

Then, in 2021, both imports and exports rebounded significantly, reaching their highest level during the period.

At the same time, the merchandise trade deficit, which was $946 billion in 2018, increased to $1.18 trillion in 2021, its highest level during the period under review due to a larger import surge.

Above all, the initial decline in trade is due to supply- and demand-side factors attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nominal U.S. merchandise exports declined to $1.43 trillion in 2020, the lowest level since 2010, but rebounded to $1.75 trillion in 2021, the highest level on record, reflecting the recovery.

In the early part of the period, the decline in U.S. imports was mainly due to the significantly lower value of energy imports, particularly crude oil, which fell 47% between 2018 and 2020, as well as transportation equipment, which fell 17% mainly due to a decline in imports of vehicles for transporting people and their parts.

Merchandise imports

In 2021, most product categories rebounded, particularly mineral products, although machinery and equipment and vehicles recovered to a lesser extent than other categories.

Imports and exports remained fairly diversified in terms of products, with the top 15 imported products (6-digit HS headings) accounting for 25% of total imports, and the top 15 exported products (6-digit HS headings) accounting for 26% of total exports.


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