What Are the Top U.S. Imports?

At the end of the second quarter of 2018, the United States' trade deficit increased to its highest level since 2008. This was due to a steady rise in imports that was, in turn, fueled by strong domestic demand. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the U.S. trade deficit reached $68.1 billion in Nov. 2020, $5 billion more than $63.1 billion in October.

Key Takeaways:

  • Capital goods were the largest category of imports to the United States at $510 billion.
  • California imported the most foreign goods followed by Texas, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.
  • China was the largest provider of foreign goods to the United States supplying 18.6% of all U.S. imports in 2020.

According to the BEA, total year-to-date U.S. exports were down 16.1% as of Nov. 2020 from the same period in 2019. Imports declined by 10.5% as the coronavirus pandemic had a devastating effect on global commerce in 2020 and disrupted global supply chains.

In 2018, President Donald Trump called for a reduction in the trade deficit and pushed for an "America First" trade policy. The Trump administration's move to impose tariffs on Chinese imports and the subsequent retaliation by the Asian economy put stock market investors on edge.

The Composition of U.S. Imports

Here’s a closer look at the current composition of U.S. goods imports. All figures are based on U.S. Census Bureau data for 2019.

Capital goods, excluding automotive, took the top spot in 2019 with $510 billion worth of goods imported. Computers were the top commodity under capital goods followed by telecommunications equipment and semiconductors. This category also includes railway equipment, medical equipment, and civilian aircraft.

Consumer goods were the second-largest commodity imported into the United States in 2019, clocking in at $497 billion. Pharmaceutical preparations were the largest category under consumer goods followed by cell phones and other household goods. Consumer goods also include household appliances, toys, and clothing.

Next on the list were industrial supplies and materials at $394 billion. Crude oil held the top spot in this category followed by petroleum products and industrial supplies. This category also includes finished metal and chemicals and plastics.

The States That Import the Most

As of Nov. 2020, California is the top state importer of foreign goods. California is followed by Texas, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

Top Exporting Countries to the United States

And where are all these goods coming from? Unsurprisingly, China leads the list. The manufacturing powerhouse supplied approximately 18.6% as of Nov. 2020. That number has dropped from 20.5% as of July 2018. China is followed by Mexico and Canada, and Japan and Germany are next on the list.

Article Sources

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  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. "U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, November 2020." Accessed Jan. 27, 2021.

  2. United States Census. "Exhibit 8. U.S. Imports of Goods by End-Use Category and Commodity." Accessed Jan. 27, 2021.

  3. U.S. Census Bureau. "Top Trading Partners - November 2020." Accessed Jan. 27, 2021.

  4. Office of the United States Trade Representative. "USTR Issues Tariffs on Chinese Products in Response to Unfair Trade Practices." Accessed Jan. 27, 2021.

  5. United States Census Bureau. "U. S. Imports of Goods by State of Destination, by NAICS-Based Product." Accessed Jan. 27, 2021.