US trade plunged in March, as the country enacted emergency measures and business activities slowed. The nation bought 6.5% less goods than a year prior and sold 9.2% less to other countries during the same period. The big downward swing did not affect all products the same. Some items were in such new demand abroad that the US became a net exporter of them. Some became so needed in the US that the country became a net importer.
Quartz analyzed the US trade data in March and identified products that switched between deficit and surplus.
An increase in US domestic demand or a decrease in international buying can cause a product to go from a surplus to a deficit.
Antibiotics went from a surplus of $19 million to a deficit of $22 million. A plunge of exports to China caused the switch. China is typically a net exporter of antibiotics to the US.
Gold was a hot commodity. The US imported $3.1 billion in non-monetary gold in March, a big jump from the $770 million in February, reverting the trade balance.
Lower domestic need or larger international demand can cause a good to go from a net import to a net export.
The US sold an increasing amount of specific types of medications that contain antigens or hyaluronic acid to European countries in March, causing a trade balance switch. The net exports to the UK and the Netherlands increased more than 200% from the amount in February.
With large gatherings called off, the US imported a lot less fireworks in March. US imports from China dropped from from $25.2 million to $2.1 million, causing the trade balance in fireworks, rain rockets, and signaling flares to switch from a deficit of $18 million to a surplus of $6 million. Most of the US’s exports in this category are not fireworks.
The US had been an importer of household and hospital paper products in every month of the past year. That changed in March. Net imports of toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, and menstrual pads from China shrank to about half the volume of February, possibly due to factory closings and increasing demand there. The US also exported more of these products to some countries like Japan and Taiwan.