The United States exports and imports maritime goods to and from more than 170 countries, but the vast majority of its trade is with relatively few trading partners. In 2009, the top 10 countries accounted for nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of inbound container TEUs, while more than half (56 percent) of the outbound container TEUs were to 10 countries. The top five U.S. containerized cargo trading partners in 2009 were all in Asia: China, Japan, Hong Kong (China), South Korea, and Taiwan.15 China was the leading containerized merchandise trading partner, accounting for nearly one-half (48 percent) of U.S. maritime imported TEUs, almost double the 25 percent of such trade in 2000. China accounted for 22 percent of U.S. exported TEUs in 2009, more than double the 9 percent it received in 2000 (figure 19 and figure 20).
While China's share of the total U.S. container trade grew between 2000 and 2009, the other top five trading partners saw declines in their total maritime containerized cargo trade with the United States. Japan is now the second largest trading partner for U.S. oceanborne containerized exports, having been overtaken by China in 2003. Japan's share of U.S. container cargo continues to decrease, and now accounts for 3 percent of U.S. imports and 7 percent of U.S. exports. In 2009, U.S. maritime container imports from China alone were larger than those from more than 160 countries combined (i.e., those countries grouped into the "others" category in figure 19).
The types of goods that the U.S. exports and imports to and from major trading partners affects the types of vessels in which the goods are shipped (container, dry bulk, general cargo, or tanker), the number of port calls that are made, and the seaports the vessels use. For instance, while most U.S.-Canada maritime trade involves agricultural products, lumber, and petroleum products, most U.S.-Germany maritime trade involves manufactured products, such as automobiles and machinery; shipping those products requires different types of vessels—such as dry bulk, tanker, and container.
Differences in exports and imports are also reflected in the value of the goods. For example, in 2008, U.S. maritime imports from Japan were valued at over $7,000 per ton, but U.S. exports to Japan were valued at $800 per ton, reflecting differences in the types of goods and the growth in high-value containerized imports to U.S. ports (USDOC CB 2010). Major U.S. maritime imports from Japan include passenger cars, car parts, and electronic equipment; major U.S. maritime exports to Japan include agricultural products, industrial machinery, and chemicals.
15 For the analysis in this report, U.S. merchandise trade with China and Hong Kong are considered separate. As used here, China refers to China alone.