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U.S. imports - Statistics & Facts

Imports place a hugely important role in the U.S. economy and in the lives of everyday Americans. In 2018, the value of imports of goods and services into the United States was 3.12 trillion U.S. dollars. The relative size of imports has grown in recent years, from around 10 percent of GDP in the early 1990s to 15 percent in 2017.

There are a number of reasons as to why a country will import a good or service rather than produce it domestically. The primary reason according to economic theory is that when countries are able to trade they will specialize in producing products in which they have a comparative advantage. Other reasons could be that certain cultural products are unavailable in the country or the country lacks an appropriate climate for certain products.

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. 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 in a time where passenger cars are the biggest import industry 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.

Such conditions are said to have been a major factor in the rise of Donald Trump into the White House. A number of Americans felt that U.S. manufacturing jobs required protection from the free trade deals that allowed competition from foreign countries such as China where labor, and therefore manufactured goods, is cheaper. However, if a considerable share of voters in the United States were swayed by Trump’s rally to “Make American Manufacturing Great Again”, a 2017 survey suggests just over a quarter believed he could resolve the issue of trade deals effectively.

International travel accounted for over a quarter of the value of U.S. services imports in 2018. Although the service itself is being provided outside of the United States, it is considered an import as a foreign service because it is paid for and consumed by Americans. Despite the geographic and cultural diversity of the United States, international travel experiences are one service that can never be produced domestically.

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