How a US-China trade war might impact individual states

Published on May 15th 2019

The tariff battle between the United States and China is set to impact hundreds of billions of dollars in trade between the two countries. That impact will vary at the state level, as each state has a different trading relationship with China.

Last week, President Trump called for 25-percent tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods after trade talks between the United States and China stalled. In response, China called for an increase in tariffs on $60 billion worth of American imports.

In 2018, the United States had its largest trade imbalance ever with China. The United States imported $539.5 billion in goods from China, $419.2 billion more than the $120.3 billion it exported to China, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau

California had the biggest trade imbalance among states with China, taking in $144.8 billion more in imports than exports. In terms of proportion, Arkansas had the worst imbalance, importing more than 16 times more goods from China than were exported to China. (Washington, DC had a ratio of 82 times more Chinese imports than exports.)

Only six states had a positive trade balance with China: Louisiana ($1.6 billion), Oregon ($1.4 billion), Alaska ($708 million), New Mexico ($435 million), West Virginia ($249 million) and Alabama ($236 million).

The largest category of goods imported from China is the $43.2 billion worth of cell phones, which were not in the round of tariffs announced last week.

Exports to China vary significantly by category and affect different states (It is unclear as of Wednesday how all of these categories may be impacted by China’s tariff announcement.)

Here’s a top ten list of goods exported to China in 2018. The list is based on the Harmonized System (HS), used internationally to categorize goods:

GoodExports to China ($)Exports to World ($)Pct. of Exports to ChinaTop State (or State Level) to ChinaTop State (or State Level) to China ($)
Civilian aircraft/engine/parts$18.2 billion$130.4 billion14.0%Washington$11.4 billion
Crude oil from petroleum and bituminous materials$5.4 billion$47.2 billion11.4%Texas$4.7 billion
Passenger Motor Vehicles With Spark-ignition Internal Combustion Reciprocating Piston Engine, Cylinder Capacity Over 1,500 Cc But Not Over 3,000 Cc$4.0 billion$17.4 billion23.2%Alabama$1.5 billion
Processors And Controllers, Electronic Integrated Circuits$3.9 billion$19.1 billion20.6%Oregon$2.2 billion
Soybeans$3.1 billion$17.1 billion18.4%Washington$1.6 billion
Machines And Apparatus For The Manufacture Of Semiconductor Devices Or Of Electronic Integrates Circuits$3.0 billion$12.3 billion24.2%California$1.1 billion
Electronic Integrated Circuits$1.3 billion$10.8 billion12.0%California$368 million
Motor Vehicles With Only Electric Motor$1.1 billion$3.4 billion32.7%California$1.1 billion
Copper Waste and Scrap$1.1 billion$3.2 billion33.9%California$208 million
Medicaments, In Measured Doses, Etc. (excluding Vaccines, Etc., Coated Bandages Etc. And Pharmaceutical Goods)$1.1 billion$17.9 billion6.0%Puerto Rico$578 million


Trade figures for each state and state-level jurisdiction come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Imports are assigned to the state where the good ultimately ends trade and exports are assigned to the state from which the trade begins. Figures only include goods and not services. GDP data for comparison comes from the Bureau of Economic Advisers.

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