As of August 2017, the U.S.’s trade deficit with China was just over $239 million. America exported approximately $80.2 million to China while China imported over $319 million to the U.S. There are numerous reasons for this imbalance, but being in deficit may hurt the U.S. economy in the long run.
The reason why the U.S. receives goods from China (mainly consumer electronics and clothing) is because China can produce goods at lower costs than the U.S. can. The benefits are felt in the pockets of Americans every day. China’s competitive pricing is the result of two factors:
- China has a lower standard of living. Therefore, companies pay lower wages to their employees.
- The Chinese yuan is partially fixed to the U.S. dollar. Also known as ‘pegging’, it is the act of a country or government’s exchange-rate policy attaching the central bank’s rate of exchange to another country’s currency. It stabilizes the exchange rate between China and the U.S., which is advantageous for large importers like China.
However, in 2016, China began relaxing its “pegging” in an attempt to gain traction from market forces to increase the value of the yuan. As a result of this action, the dollar to yuan conversion has been volatile and China’s influence on the dollar remains high.
How exactly does China hold power over the U.S. dollar? Chinese companies receive dollars as payments for exports to the U.S. These companies deposit the dollars into the banks in exchange for yuan to pay employees. The banks then send the dollars to China’s central bank. It stockpiles them in its reserves. This reduces the supply of dollars available for trade. Therefore, it puts upward pressure on the dollar’s value, thus, lowering the yuan’s value. This cycle could potentially give China leverage over U.S. fiscal policy.
Another major reason why an ongoing trade deficit with China could be detrimental to the U.S. economy is because its financed with debt. What if China decided to call in its loans?
China also helps keep U.S. interest rates low by buying Treasurys. If China stopped buying Treasurys, interests would rise and potentially throw the U.S. and the world into recession.
The deficit puts a heavy burden on the manufacturing industry, as well. For U.S. companies to compete with China, they must either lower their costs (this could potentially put them out of business) or outsource jobs to China, but this option hinders U.S. job creation.
President Trump has promised to lower the trade deficit with China by imposing duties on Chinese imports. However, many Chinese imports are made up of raw materials sent from the U.S. Trump’s tariffs would reduce profits for these American companies who ship material to China, resulting in price raises of the products shipped back to the U.S. China might retaliate and raise its tariffs on imports from U.S. companies. If this is the case, Trump might be the biggest factor to hurt the economy.