A Big Picture of International Trade and the U.S. Economy (updated Feb 2016)

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1. Trade keeps the US economy growing. Since 1960, trade in the US on average has grown at double the rate of growth of the economy as a whole. Exports of goods and services—produced by businesses employing millions of Americans—are fourteen times what they were six decades ago.

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2.Trade pushes countries to produce and export what they are relatively more efficient at making. This is called comparative advantage. The US has abundant skilled-labor and has become one of the world’s leading exporters of high-tech machinery, electrical equipment, vehicles and other capital goods. The same can be said for US exports of business, professional and technical services. The chart shows the trend of higher average earnings in manufacturing industries that export more per worker. More broadly, workers producing US exports are higher paid on average, by 16 to 18 percent more than other workers. And by all metrics, exporting industries are generally more productive than non-exporting industries.

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3.Imports are essential to US production and exports! Export competitiveness relies on access to high-quality, low-cost imports. US production processes rely on multiple countries forming parts of the supply chain.

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4. U.S. public opinion on trade has long been divided, although in recent years Americans appear to be more persuaded that the potential gains outweigh the costs. The unequal benefits from growing international trade, loss of manufacturing jobs and the downward pressure on wage level remain the top concerns of trade skeptics.

References:

  1. Council on Foreign Relations (2016) Trading up: U.S. Trade and Investment Policy
  2. Peterson Institute for International Economics (2015). Why International Trade and Investment Are Good for the US Economy: A Story in Eight Charts