U.S. Imports and Exports: Components and Statistics

What Does the United States Trade With Foreign Countries?

U.S. imports and exports for 2019 totaled $5.6 trillion, with $3.1 trillion in imports and $2.5 trillion in exports

Image by © The Balance 2020

Imports and exports are the goods and services bought and sold abroad. Today, we have grown used to seeing goods from all over the world on the shelves of grocery and retail stores.

In fact, the U.S. is the largest importer in the world, having brought in $3.4 trillion in goods and services from abroad in 2021. At the same time, the U.S. exported $2.2 trillion-worth of manufactured goods around the world.

Key Takeaways

  • The US has a decades-long trade deficit, importing far more goods and services than it exports.
  • The balance of imports and exports impacts GDP, exchange rates, and inflation levels.
  • The US is the largest importer in the world, and the second-largest exporter (next to China).
  • The biggest single category of goods the US imports is cars and the biggest export is refined petroleum.

Why Imports and Exports Matter to You

The volume and nature of imports and exports deeply affects the economy of any country, and the U.S. is no exception. Imports and exports can affect a country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), its exchange rate, and its level of inflation and interest rates. This, in turn, can make goods and services more expensive or create jobs and stimulate domestic production. It can also affect interest rates you pay for credit card debt, home loans, and other borrowing.

The Balance of Trade and GDP

The relative value of imports and exports in an economy is expressed in a measure known as the balance of trade. This measure is calculated by taking the total value of imports from the total value of exports. 

If this number is positive, exports exceed imports, and a country is said to have a trade surplus. In the inverse situation, where a country imports more than it exports, it is said to have a trade deficit.

A trade surplus indicates that a country is producing goods, services, or raw materials for consumption abroad.

The U.S., in contrast, has long maintained a large trade deficit—it has imported more than it has exported for about half of a century. Economists and trade experts are divided on whether the deficit impacts the economy at large.  Those opposing a sustained deficit believe it has cost the country manufacturing jobs, depressed wages and eroded the country’s trade competitiveness.

Exchange Rates, Inflation, and Interest Rates

Large deficits, like the one the U.S. maintains, are generally thought to weaken economies. This is because buying goods and services from abroad means a net outflow of currency from a country—dollars are sent abroad, essentially, in exchange for goods and services.


The way in which trade affects the foreign exchange rate of the dollar is complex, because there are feedback loops in the economy which act to stabilize the value of a currency. 

A trade deficit will, in theory, devalue a currency and make imported goods more expensive. However, this will then make exports cheaper, increasing demand from abroad. In this way, as long as imports and exports stay relatively well-balanced, an economy can be held in a fairly stable equilibrium.

However, this process can also lead to inflation. If a country relies on imported goods (and particularly basic materials like gasoline and food), and the cost of these increase due to a weaker currency, the average cost of living in that country will increase. Controlling inflation of this type is one of the main tasks of a central bank, and one of the main ways of doing this is to raise interest rates. Rising interest rates encourage people to save rather than spend, and act as a brake on inflation.

This is another way imports and exports matter to the average person. You might not be importing semiconductors or exporting grain, but the balance between exports and imports can ultimately affect the price you pay for goods and services and the interest rate you receive on your credit card or mortgage.

US Exports vs. Imports

The trade deficit has been growing for much of the last two years. From January to April 2022, the goods and services deficit increased $107.9 billion, or 41.1%, from the same period in 2021.


In the U.S., data on exports and imports is released every month by the Census Bureau. Read more about the current U.S. balance of trade here.

The goods and services that the U.S. imports and exports vary month to month, depending on domestic needs and trends in the world economy. However, some of the largest categories of imports and exports have stayed fairly stable in recent years. 

US Imports

The top imports to the United States are:

  • Cars: $144 billion
  • Computers: $92.4 billion
  • Packaged Medical Treatments: $84.1 billion
  • Broadcasting Equipment: $82 billion
  • Crude Petroleum: $75.1 billion

The US imports mostly from:

  • China: $438 billion
  • Mexico: $326 billion
  • Canada: $264 billion
  • Germany: $116 billion
  • Japan: $112 billion

US Exports

The top exports from the United States are:

  • Refined Petroleum: $58.4 billion
  • Crude Petroleum: $52.3 billion
  • Cars: $47.6 billion
  • Integrated Circuits: $44.2 billion
  • Petroleum Gas: $34.7 billion

The U.S. exports mostly to: 

  • Canada: $218 billion
  • Mexico: $196 billion
  • China: $122 billion
  • Japan: $63.1 billion
  • Germany: $59.2 billion

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What happens to exports and imports when the U.S. dollar depreciates?

When the value of the dollar drops relative to other currencies, it makes exports more expensive, and it's cheaper for other countries to buy American goods and services. All else equal, this could be expected to increase exports and decrease imports.

What are the three largest agricultural exports from the United States?

By dollar value, the three largest agricultural exports from the U.S. are typically soybeans, meat and poultry, and corn.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1.  Census Bureau. “U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, Annual Revision.”

  2. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Historical U.S. Trade Deficits."

  3.  Council on Foreign Relations. “The U.S. Trade Deficit: How Much Does It Matter?

  4. Congressional Research Service. "The Dollar and the U.S. Trade Deficit."

  5. Census Bureau. “Monthly U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, April 2022.”

  6. The Observatory of Economic Complexity. “United States.”

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