The NumbersThe value of imports and exports within a country's economy is known as the balance of trade and is calculated by taking the total value of imports from the total value of exports. U.S. imports amount to around 13 percent of GDP in 2020. The U.S.' biggest imports in 2021 was computers and electronics products, transport equipment, and chemicals.
The United States conducts a lot of its import trade with its closest neighbors, Mexico, and Canada. Despite a trade war waged by former president Donald Trump, the country's biggest import partner remains China. Chinese imports declined to 434 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 but rose again in 2021. In that year, imports from China to the U.S. were predominantly pharmaceutical preparations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Globalization and comparative advantageEven though the U.S. has the capability to produce all the goods and services that it needs, emerging markets such as China and Mexico are able to produce the same goods for less. Given lower costs of living, companies can pay workers less, and the goods can be sold in the U.S. more cheaply and are better suited to providing products that American consumers are willing to buy - this is an economic concept known as comparative advantage.
Domestically, imports are viewed in a negative light by those exposed to the economic pressures of competition in a globalized market. This includes producers of those goods and services and their employees. Critics of globalization point to the movement of manufacturing jobs from the U.S. to cheaper markets in less developed countries - although efforts have been made to re-shore jobs to the states. In certain cases, it can be that a town or even an entire city is reliant on the economic activity provided by that industry. One such example is the struggles of Detroit at a time when transport equipment is one of the biggest import industries in America in terms of dollar value. Due to labor and capital constraints many people are left without jobs or the customers on whose patronage they once relied.