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Trade between the U.S. and China: Steady as she goes?


For years now, we’ve been talking about the tempest of tariffs and trade wars between the U.S. and China. The FRED graph above doesn’t reveal all the effects, but it gives us the big picture by tracking overall imports, exports, and the trade balance for goods. Clearly, U.S.-China trade has grown tremendously over the decades, along with a large trade surplus for China. But things haven’t changed in any substantial way for the past 10 years. The composition of traded goods today may be different from what it used to be, but there’s nothing remarkable happening in the aggregate.

A few more ideas:

  1. The units for imports and exports are in natural logarithms, which we’ve used before to evenly display changes over time.
  2. FRED has data only for traded goods, not services; but we did investigate this topic a while back.
  3. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about the U.S. having a trade deficit.

How this graph was created: Search for and select the “goods imports China” series and click “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” option to search for and add the “good exports China” series. Set the units for both lines to “Natural Log.” For the third line, use “Add Line” again to search for and select the “good imports China” series. Then use the “Customize data” search field to search for and select the “good exports China” series. Apply formula b-a. Finally, use the “Format” tab to choose “Right” for the y-axis position of the last line.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: EXPCH, IMPCH


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