US Ran $310.8 Billion Pandemic-Year Trade Deficit With China

By Terence P. Jeffrey

February 10, 2021 7 min read

The United States ran a merchandise trade deficit of $310.8 billion with the People's Republic of China in 2020, according to data released Friday by the Census Bureau.

That was the largest merchandise trade deficit the United States ran with any country last year.

It was also the ninth straight year this nation's merchandise trade deficit with China (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars) has exceeded $300 billion.

A nation where, as the State Department puts it, "the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount authority" persistently and dramatically beats the United States in the exchange of goods for money.

China hauls in all of this money from the United States, year after year, at the same time it denies the God-given rights of its own people.

In China, according to the State Department's latest human rights report, there are "arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; ... physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others."

There are also "severe restrictions on religious freedom" and "a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases included forced sterilization or abortions."

In 1985, when President Ronald Reagan started his second term, the U.S. merchandise trade deficit with the People's Republic was only $6 million.

When President George H.W. Bush took office in 1989, it was $6.2 billion.

When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, it was $22.7 billion.

When President George W. Bush took over in 2001, it was $83 billion.

By 2009, President Barack Obama's first year, it had risen to $226.8 billion. In 2012, the last year of Obama's first term, it topped $300 billion for the first time — hitting $315.1 billion.

In all four years of Obama's second term, the U.S. merchandise trade deficit with China stayed above $300 billion — closing at $346.8 billion in 2016.

Then — through all four years of President Donald Trump's term — the merchandise trade deficit with China remained above $300 billion.

It hit an all-time high of $418.9 billion in 2018.

Then, in the past two years, after the Trump administration imposed tariffs on some Chinese goods, it declined to $345.2 billion in 2019 and then to $310.8 billion in 2020. But it did not drop back below the $300 billion threshold.

The next-largest merchandise trade deficit the United States ran in 2020 was with Mexico. But that deficit was only $112.7 billion — or just 36.2% of the $310.8 billion deficit with China.

In fact, both Mexico and Canada spent more buying U.S. exports in 2020 than China did. Specifically, China last year bought only $124.6 billion in merchandise from the United States, while Mexico bought $212.7 billion and Canada bought $255.4 billion.

This is despite the fact that China's population and economy are significantly larger than those of Mexico and Canada.

China, according to the CIA's World Factbook, has a population of 1,397,897,720, while Mexico has a population less than one-tenth that size (130,207,371) and Canada has a population less than one-thirty-sixth that size (37,943,231).

Similarly, China's real GDP in 2019 was $22.5 trillion (in constant 2010 dollars), according to the CIA World Factbook, while Mexico's was $2.5 trillion (about 11% of China's), and Canada's was $1.84 trillion (about 8.2% of China's).

So, the $255.4 billion in American merchandise that Canada bought last year equaled approximately $6,731 per person in Canada. The $212.7 billion in American merchandise that Mexico bought equaled approximately $1,634 per person in Mexico. But the $124.6 billion that China bought equals only approximately $89 per person in China.

South Korea, which has a population of 51,715,162, according to the CIA World Factbook, purchased $51.2 billion in imports from the United States last year. That equaled about $990 per capita — or more than 11 times the $89 in per capita imports the People's Republic of China bought from the United States last year.

What did America buy from China in 2020 that caused this country to run its largest bilateral merchandise trade deficit with a country where the "Communist Party is the paramount authority"?

Americans, according to the Census Bureau, spent $61.87 billion on "cell phones and other household goods" imported from China last year. That was the most-expensive category of imports.

Then came $50.82 billion in "computers" (not counting another $16.9 billion in "computer accessories"). Then came $34.28 billion in "apparel, textiles, nonwool or cotton." Then came $27.65 billion in "toys, games and sporting goods."

At the same time this nation has been running up massive annual merchandise trade deficits with China, the People's Republic has been slowing down the rate at which it loans money to our deficit-running federal government.

In November 2020, according to the Treasury Department, entities in Mainland China owned $1.063 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities. That was less than the $1.0891 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities China had owned in November 2019 — before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

And it was $253.7 billion — or 19.2% — less than the peak of $1.3167 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities that entities in China owned at their peak in November 2013.

In January 1985, the manufacturing sector employed 18,009,000 Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This January, it only employed 12,217,000.

What are the chances that President Joe Biden, Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will put America first?

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of To find out more about him, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: geralt at Pixabay

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