Charts: The shifting trade relationship between the US and China

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Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung Hoon
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The US has long fretted over the vast amount of money it spends importing goods from China, and over how little the Chinese import from the US in return. But according to data from the International Trade Centre, over the past decade the US has actually been buying less of China’s exports, as a percentage of all Chinese goods shipped:

In 2005, the US snapped up 21.4% of all Chinese goods exported; last year it bought just 17%. That’s not because the US is buying less from China (the US is still the biggest buyer of Chinese goods and it buys more every year), but because the rest of the world is now buying more from China.

Meanwhile, China has been getting richer, and that means it can afford to buy more stuff from the US. In 2005, China purchased only 7.4% of the US’s exports; last year, it brought in 8.2%.

That change may sound small, but consider that the three other big exporters to China have seen their share of exports to China actually drop.

China is likely to continue to be the fastest-growing large economy for some time, and that means Chinese people will continue to be able to buy more US goods. And as manufacturing moves from China to other, cheaper emerging economies, the US might find that its habit of buying from China slows.

One thing that is not expected, though, is for overall trade between the two countries to shrink. Despite fluctuations in relative importance, both the US and China’s economies have grown significantly in the past decade. And the money being spent between the two countries continues to rise dramatically: