Coronavirus Crisis Drives Collapse in April Trade, Deficit Worsens to $49 Billion

By Steven L. Byers, PhD and Jeff Ferry

The coronavirus disrupted international trade and led to a collapse in US trade volume which makes it difficult or impossible to draw conclusions about underlying trends.

That being said, the April data show that exports are down 28 percent from a year ago and imports down 22.4 percent. The US trade deficit in goods and services for April 2020 increased 16.7 percent to $49.4 billion (seasonally adjusted) as monthly exports fell more than imports.

The US goods trade deficit with China nearly doubled in the month, to $22.5 billion, up from $11.8 billion in March. Since China emerged from the coronavirus crisis earlier than the US, its exports to the US ramped up in April more quickly than our exports to China.  

The US goods trade deficit with Mexico in April was $3.3 billion, 59 percent smaller than the year-earlier figure of $8.0 billion, illustrating the depressed nature of the automotive industry and other industries that dominate US-Mexico trade. With regard to other major trading partners, the monthly goods trade deficit with the European Union (EU) was $15.3 billion, an improvement of 15 percent over the year-earlier figure of $17.9 billion.  However, adding back the UK April deficit of $572 billion for March 2020 (the UK left the European Union on January 31, 2020) makes our EU-28 deficit $15.9 billion. Our deficit with Canada shrunk 87 percent to just $184.9 million in April.

Agricultural Exports

Exports of agricultural commodities (not seasonally adjusted) in April were $10.6 billion, down 6.3 percent from the March figure of $11.4 billion. Some of our major agricultural commodities saw strong gains despite the coronavirus.  Soybean exports came in at $1.6 billion in April, up 33.4 percent from the March level. Exports of wheat increased 24 percent to $505 million. Corn exports increased 4.6 percent to $821 million. Dairy products and eggs exports decreased 9.4 percent to $417 million, and Meat and Poultry exports fell 2.8 percent to $1.7 billion.

Major Categories of Imports

Major import categories saw large declines in April. On a seasonally adjusted basis, telecommunications equipment imports decreased by $341 million to $4.4 billion. Medical equipment decreased 2.2 percent to $3.6 billion. Civilian aircraft imports fell 43.4 percent to $950 million while automobile imports decreased 51.1 percent to $6.6 billion. Pharmaceutical preparations were down 7.9 percent from the March figure to $13.7 billion.

On a year-to-date basis, our imports from China have fallen much more than our exports to China, 24 percent for the fall in imports compared with only a 9 percent fall in exports for the first four months of the year. Our April goods exports to China, at $8.6 billion were 9.1 percent above the year-ago April level. Our April goods imports, at $31.1 billion, were 10.4 percent below the year-ago level. However, as we explained here, China purchases so far this year of key commodities in the Phase One US-China deal are seriously below the targets, suggesting China may not intend to fulfill the commitments it agreed to in January.



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