The second part of the trade deficit: oil



From 1995 to 2008, the annual US trade deficit with China grew from $34 to $266 billion, accounting for virtually all of the increase in the US non-oil deficit from $44 to $282 billon.

Imported oil petroleum contributes significantly to the US trade deficits. From 1995 to 2008, the petroleum deficit increased from $34 to $386 billion. This huge deficit is caused primarily by the failure to impose higher mileage standards on automobiles, implement other fossil-fuel saving technologies, and to develop US domestic oil and gas resources.

Together, imports of oil and from China account for 90 percent of the US trade deficit, and that deficit has averaged more than 5 percent of GDP over the last five years.

In theory, increased imports of manufacturers from China and petroleum should shift US employment from import-competing industries to export activities. Since export industries create about 10 percent more value added per employee and undertake more R&D than import-competing industries, this would raise US productivity and GDP growth. Those are the expected gains from expanding trade based on comparative advantage.

Instead, large trade deficits shift U.S. employment from trade-competing industries into nontrade-competing industries. Trade-competing industries create at least 50 percent more value added per employee, and spend more than three times as much R&D per dollar of value added, than nontrade-competing industries. By shifting labor and capital into nontrade-competing industries, chronic trade deficits have reduced U.S. economic growth by at least one percentage point a year, or about 25 percent of potential GDP growth.*

Lost growth is cumulative. Had trade deficits been significantly smaller over the last two decades, U.S. GDP would likely be $3 trillion or 20 percent greater than it is today.