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The US’s top trading partners have changed a lot since Covid-19 took hold

Workers wearing face masks unload imported paper pulp from a cargo ship at a port in Qingdao, Shandong province, China February 11, 2020.
China Daily via REUTERS
An extraordinary time.
  • Youyou Zhou
By Youyou Zhou

Things reporter


US trade activities with the world changed a lot because of the pandemic. The world’s largest economy is now selling less goods to other countries and buying less from abroad home.

The drop in total trade is led by a drop in trade with China. The value of US goods exported to China was down 15% year-over-year in the first quarter. The US imported 28% less during the same period. The US top trading partners—Canada and Mexico—each dropped 2% in total trade. Ireland saw the largest increase in the value of goods traded with the US, mostly due to an increase in pharmaceutical products sold to the US.

US bought $33 billion worth of goods from China in January. It dropped to $20 billion in March. Imports of items such as lamps, lithium batteries, and pipe valves, all dropped more than 40% by value from February to March, as factories remained closed during the peak of the pandemic in China.

While fewer Chinese goods came to the US, Switzerland and Ireland sold significantly more to the US in the first quarter.

Imports to the US from Switzerland increased to $6 billion in March from $3.9 billion from a month ago. There was a surge of gold imports, after traders feared there was not enough physical gold on hand to satisfy futures-market contracts. Switzerland is a hub of the gold trade.

Ireland is a tax haven for pharmaceutical companies. Some of the most well-known drug makers in the world have set up shop there in schemes to lower their tax bill. Ireland exported about $710 million worth of immunological products and $650 million of medication in retail packaging to the US in March, increasing from $160 million and $106 million, respectively, in the month before.

Vietnam sold 14% less goods to the US in March. Top among the declines are telephones, furniture, and washing machines.

The pandemic had a smaller impact on US exports in March. Exports were down 3% year-over-year in the first quarter. Though, demand from the US’s largest trading partners was on the rise. US exports to China, Japan, and South Korea all rose in March, led by a 17% increase to China.

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