Americans Buy a Fifth of China's Exports

Americans bought almost $1 out of every $5 worth of goods that China exported in May, the highest share since August 2010.

While Chinese shipments to trading partners including Japan, Europe and South Korea tumbled last month from a year ago, those to the U.S. climbed 7.8 percent. That helped make America the destination for 18.8 percent of China’s exports, outstripping all others. The European Union took 15.1 percent, with 11.9 percent for the Southeast Asian grouping of Asean.

Evidence of China’s increasing reliance on the world’s largest economy comes just weeks before annual talks between the two nations in Washington, amid signs of tension over the yuan exchange rate. While the U.S. maintains that the yuan is significantly undervalued -- something that would give Chinese goods a competitive edge -- the International Monetary Fund disagrees.

“A better U.S. economy, and a relatively larger share of trade, may make the U.S. more confident in talking with China,” said Song Guoyou, a researcher with the Center for American Studies in Fudan University in Shanghai. “As usual, there are still voices in the U.S. trying to press China harder on the exchange rate issue, but the Treasury is unlikely to act aggressively.”

The Monday report comes three days after U.S. government data showed a net job gain of 280,000 in May, providing yet more potential customers for Chinese goods. American demand helped prevent a deeper decline in China’s exports, which fell for a third month in May.

Furniture, Toys

In May alone, China booked a $24.2 billion trade surplus against the U.S., or 40.7 percent of the Asian nation’s total surplus that month, according to Chinese customs data. Among the largest Chinese exports to the U.S. are electrical and machinery goods, furniture, toys, textiles and garments, Ministry of Commerce figures for 2014 show.

A stronger dollar and weakening yen and euro contributed to the gains in Chinese exports to the U.S. compared with other markets, Song said. China isn’t taking specific measures to target the American market, he added.

Besides the Strategic and Economic Dialogue talks scheduled for late June, another looming event on the calendar could affect U.S.-China ties: the American presidential election, which kicks into high gear at the start of 2016.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the third paragraph to say the U.S. maintains the currency is undervalued.)