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What's Really Ailing U.S. Exports?

Canada and Brazil--not China--have been bigger factors in recent export declines.

Bob Johnson: This week's charts involve US exports. On this first chart, we see the level of US exports compared to GDP, and we can see some solid improvement there over the last 50 years, where exports used to be as little as 5% of GDP, to as much as over 13% in recent years. You can also see from the chart that we've dropped back recently to something in the mid-12s, so clearly something has changed in the export world.

Our second chart, we'll take a look at what has changed and why it might have changed. Here we've got a country-by-country pie chart showing which countries are our major export partners. Our biggest export partner as it turns out is North America, Canada and Mexico, and then that's followed by the European Union and then by South America. Not until we get below that do we hit China, which represents about 8% of our exports, so not as big as many people think. Interestingly, also, is that China is not the cause of our export problems--the growth of exports to China are up about 1% year over year. More problematic is Canada, a major trading partner, who's down over 10% year over year, and also South America--Brazil is also down very significantly. Both of those are commodity-related issues.