US Imports by Year: Top 5 Countries

How These Countries Use Competitive Advantage to Trade With the U.S.

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Five countries make up almost half of all U.S. imports. They are China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Germany. The United States imported the most goods from Canada until 2007. when China replaced it as the top exporter to the U.S. These five countries supplied 54% of the $2.8 trillion in U.S. imports of goods in 2021.

What makes these countries such successful exporters? They have a comparative advantage in at least one of three areas. Some are best at supplying low-cost goods. That's China, Canada, and Mexico. Germany provides high-quality items. Japan's strategy is to focus on specific products for targeted markets. Each has adopted the most successful strategies that match their strengths.

Key Takeaways

  • The United States imports more than half of its total volume from five countries: China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Germany.
  • Although the United States can manufacture goods it imports, these exporting countries have comparative advantages.
  • Their comparative advantages lie in their capability to produce at a lower cost or much higher quality than U.S. companies.
  • Capital goods and consumer goods make up a large portion of U.S. imports.

Here's what the United States imports from these five countries and why they're the best at producing these goods for the U.S. market:

  • China: China primarily exports electrical equipment. This includes consumer electronics, appliances, furniture, clothing, and other goods. A lot of China's exports are manufactured products made for U.S. companies. These companies pay to ship raw materials to China. There the low-cost factory workers process the materials into the final product. 
  • Canada: More than 75% of Canada's exports go to the United States, thanks to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). In 2021, Canada became the top total trading partner with the U.S. Canada has abundant supplies of oil, gas, and uranium. 
  • Mexico: The other member of USMCA sends even more of its exports, about 78%, to the United States. Mexico's primary export is vehicles and parts.
  • Japan: Japan's biggest export to the United States is fuel-efficient and reliable automobiles, like Toyotas and Hondas. It also supplies machinery, medical instruments, aircraft, and parts.
  • Germany: Germany's biggest export to the United States is industrial machinery, followed by high-end automobiles like BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz. It also exports pharmaceuticals, machinery, plastics, and precision instruments.

Imports in Goods (Billions of Dollars)

Year China Canada Mexico Japan Germany Comments
2004 196.7 255.9 155.8 129.6 77.2  
2005 243.5 287.9 170.2 138.1 84.8  
2006 287.8 303.4 198.3 148.1 89.1  
2007 321.5 313.1 210.8 145.5 94.4 China overtakes Canada as #1
2008 337.8 335.6 215.9 139.2 97.6  
2009 296.4 224.0 176.5 94.9 71.3 Recession lowered all trade
2010 364.9 276.5 229.7 120.3 82.7 China, Mexico regain 2008 level
2011 399.3 316.5 263.1 128.8 98.4 Japan, Germany regain 2008 level
2012 425.6 324.2 277.7 146.4 108.5 Japan hits a record
2013 440.4 332.1 280.5 138.5 114.6 Only Japan decreased
2014 466.7 346.1 294.2 133.9 123.2 All but Japan set records
2015 481.9 295.2 294.7 131.1 71.8 China, Mexico set new records
2016 462.8 278.1 294.2 132.2 114.2 Only China increases
2017 505.6 299.9 314.1 136.5 117.8 China, Mexico imports hit record
2018 539.5 318.5 346 142.6 125.9 China, Mexico, Germany hit records
2019 452.2 319.7 358.1 143.6 127.5 Mexico and Germany hit new records
2020 435.4 270.4 325.4 119.5 115.1 Pandemic lowers trade
2021 506.4 357.2 384.7 135.2 135.1 Canada, Mexico, Germany set records.

Table Source: Imports.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. "Top Trading Partners - December 2021."

  2. Michigan State University. "China: Trade Statistics."

  3. Michigan State University. "Canada: Trade Statistics." Scroll down to and click on "View All Export/IMport Trade Partners.

  4. Michigan State University. "Mexico: Trade Statistics." Scroll down to and click on "View all Export/Import Trade Partners."

  5. Michigan State University. "Japan: Trade Statistics."

  6. Michigan State University. "Germany: Trade Statistics."