U.S. – China Trade In Perspective: What’s at Risk

In the last decade, between 7 and 8 percent of the United States exports of goods has been destined to China. In 2017, exports to China amounted to about 130 billion dollars. In the specific case of plastics & articles made out of plastic (Chapter 39 of the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule, which we will call “Plastics” for the purpose of this article), the U.S. exported 5.6 billion dollars of products into China in 2017.

U.S. Exports to China, Goods (Billion Dollars)

Source: ITC Trade Map, ChemPMC

About 9% of the U.S. exports of “Plastics” are sent to China. The country is the third largest destination for U.S. “Plastics” exports, with only Mexico and Canada importing larger amounts of “Plastics” from the U.S.

U.S. Exports, Plastics & Articles Made Out of Plastics (Billion Dollars)

Source: ITC Trade Map, ChemPMC

About 66% of the U.S. “Plastics” exports into China are in primary form (raw pellets). Polycarbonate and polyethylene are the U.S. largest raw polymer exports into China, followed by PVC and polypropylene.

U.S. Exports to China, Plastics & Articles Made Out of Plastics (Billion Dollars)

Source: ITC Trade Map, ChemPMC

2017 U.S. Plastics in Primary Form Exports to China, Share by Polymer

Source: ITC Trade Map, ChemPMC

The U.S. is the fourth largest supplier of “Plastics” to China, after South Korea, Japan & Taiwan. Imports of U.S. plastics represented in 2016 about 10% of the total imports into China. The U.S. market share of Chinese “Plastics” imports has remained fairly stable in the last 16 years, whereas the top three exporters into China have given market share to other suppliers, with countries like Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Germany & Iran seeing their share of “Plastics” imports into China grow rapidly.

China Imports, Plastics & Articles Made Out of Plastics (Billion Dollars)

Source: ITC Trade Map, ChemPMC

Share of Chinese “Plastics” Imports

Source: ITC Trade Map, ChemPMC

U.S. exports of polyethylene are expected to increase at a much faster pace than domestic demand in the next five years. Between 2018 and 2022, polyethylene exports out of North America will increase anywhere from 1 million to 1.9 million metric tons per year. At current prices, 1 million metric tons of polyethylene would earn 1.3 billion dollars in sales. In other words, the yearly growth in North American polyethylene exports would be larger than the region’s current exports of polyethylene to China.

North American Polyethylene: Growth in Exports Vs. Growth in Domestic Demand (Thousand Metric Ton)

Source: ChemPMC

ChemPMC will continue to provide coverage of the potential trade war between China and the United States. For the latest about this and other subjects of interest, enter your email address in the space provided at the right of this column to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Your comments are always welcome!

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