It’s no secret that in spite of the Obama Administration’s best efforts to boost exports, the U.S. still has a significant trade deficit. In 2011 U.S. exports reached an all time high of $1.5 trillion, a 16.2% year-over-year increase according to U.S. Census data. Yet, even this dramatic uptick in exports wasn’t enough to close the gap in the U.S. trade deficit which actually expanded to $-738 billion from $-646 billion in 2010.
The massive imbalance between U.S. trade with China is often to blame for this problem. After all, China is by far the least balanced of all of the U.S.’s trading partners. In fact, the U.S. trade deficit with China in TEUs (-5,923,053 TEUs) is actually greater than the total U.S. trade deficit (-5,444,757 TEUs) indicating that the U.S. actually has a trade surplus for total non-China waterborne shipments.
This trade deficit comes at the expense of ocean carriers, ports, 3PLs and others involved in moving cargo who are tasked with the unfortunate responsibility of having to send empty containers back to their original destination to support inefficient trade lanes. Maersk Line alone estimates they spend nearly $1 billion each year moving over 4 million empty dry and reefer containers; a cost they look to significantly reduce through a program called “NOR” for “Non-Operating Reefers”.
But what about the countries that have a nearly perfect trade balance with the U.S.? By focusing their efforts on countries where the trade balance is nearly perfect, transportation companies who effectively penetrate these markets could provide their services without the additional cost associated with moving empty containers…well at least theoretically. So assuming this dream scenario is actually possible, what countries would be good candidates?
Using PIERS Data we took a look at the U.S.’s major trading partners (over 100,000 TEUs in 2011) and ranked each country according to their 2011 trade balance as a percent of the country’s total trade in TEUs. A ranked list of the 10 most balanced trading partners based on their trade balance to total trade ratio is below.
South Korea surprisingly tops the list at number one. Imports of auto parts and tires from South Korea which totaled 89,346 and 60,709 TEUs in 2011 respectively, were in part offset by U.S. exports of scrap paper (60,265 TEUs) and scrap metal (58,902 TEUs). The Netherlands, which followed in a close second, was led on the import side by strong beer imports (59,755 TEUs) and offset by a number of strong U.S. exports including automobiles (7,039 TEUs), and chemical products like prepolymers (8,694 TEUs) and chemical wood pulp (8,584 TEUs). Other countries rounding out the top ten include Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, Brazil, United Kingdom, Philippines, India and Taiwan.
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