U.S. Imports: By Year and By Country

5 Countries Ship Half of All U.S. Imports

U.S. Imports by year and country
The United States imports the most from China.

Five countries supply over 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 our neighbor to the north. In 2016, these five countries supplied 56.9 percent of the $2.2 trillion in U.S. imports.

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. For more on these three arenas, see Competitive Advantage Strategies.

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 would include computers and optical and medical equipment. It's also a big exporter of low-cost apparel, fabric and textiles. 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. For more, see China's Economy.

Canada: Almost 75 percent of Canada's exports go to the United States, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Since 1994, trade between the NAFTA partners have tripled. Canada has abundant supplies of oil, gas and uranium. For more, see Canada's Economy.

Mexico: The other member of NAFTA sends even more of its exports to the United States (78 percent). Mexico's No. 1 export is manufactured products, for many of the same reasons.

 If it weren't for the drug cartels, Mexico could become the next China. For more, see Mexico's Economy: Facts, Opportunities and Challenges.

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 and aircraft. Japan supplies a lot of parts. Japan's earthquake and nuclear disaster created a global economic slowdown due to lowered export of parts. To make its products more competitive in the U.S. market, Japan's central bank keeps the value of its currency, the yen, low. That's contributed to the yen carry trade and made Japan one of the largest holders of U.S. debt. For more, see Japan's Economy.

Germany: Germany's biggest export to the United States is high-end automobiles, like BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. It also exports pharmaceuticals, machinery and equipment. For more, see Germany's Economy

                          Imports in Goods (Billions of Dollars)

YearChina  Canada Mexico Japan  Germany Comments
2015481.9295.2294.7131.1  71.8China, Mexico imports hit record.
2014466.7346.1294.2133.9123.2Canada, Germany hit record.
2013  440.4332.1280.5138.5114.6 
2012425.6324.2277.7146.4108.5Japan hit record.
2011399.3316.5263.1128.8  98.4Japan, Germany regain 2008 level.
2010364.9276.5229.7120.3  82.7China, Mexico regain 2008 level.
2009296.4224.0176.5  94.9  71.3Recession lowered all trade.
2008337.8335.6215.9139.2  97.6 
2007321.5313.1210.8145.5  94.4China overtakes Canada as #1.
2006287.8303.4198.3148.1  89.1 
2005243.5287.9170.2138.1  84.8 
2004196.7255.9155.8129.6  77.2 

              (Source: "Top Trading Partners," U.S. Census, December 2016.)