Unexpectedly Intriguing!
May 14, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic continued taking a toll on the aggregate volume of goods and services traded between the U.S. and China in March 2020. Year over year, the combined value of goods imported and exported between the two nations fell by $13.8 billion, or 33%, from the level recorded in March 2019.

Combined Value of U.S. Exports to China and Imports from China, January 2008 - March 2020

Using trailing twelve month averages to smooth out annual seasonality in the data, we estimate a gap of $3.4 billion has opened between the pandemic-impacted level of trade for this measure and a counterfactual trajectory based on what that trajectory may have reasonably looked like following the January 2020 U.S.-China 'Phase-1' trade deal in the absence of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic lockdowns imposed by governments in response to it that have caused both nations' GDP to crash and their unemployment rates to soar.

The following chart shows the year-over-year exchange rate-adjusted growth rates of goods imported to the U.S. from China and exported from the U.S. to China since 1986.

Year Over Year Growth Rate of Exchange Rate Adjusted U.S.-China Trade in Goods and Services, January 1986 - March 2020

The growth rate of goods imported by the U.S. from China has fallen well below the levels recorded during the so-called "Great Recession" period of 2008-2009, confirming the greater severity of the coronavirus recession.


Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. China / U.S. Foreign Exchange Rate. G.5 Foreign Exchange Rates. Accessed 8 May 2020.

U.S. Census Bureau. Trade in Goods with China. Accessed 8 May 2020.

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