Washington-As the end of the year approaches, consumers staying at home are buying furniture and appliances made in China, Barbie’s dream house, and bicycles to prepare for the holiday, which has led to a surge in US imports from China.
The surge in imports is another side effect of the new crown virus. Americans use money that could have been spent on vacations, movies, and restaurants on household items, such as new lighting equipment in the home office, fitness equipment in the basement gym, and toys that make children happy.
This is a boon for China, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of many such products. In November, China’s reported trade surplus reached a record US$75.43 billion, thanks to an unexpected increase in exports of 21.1% compared to the same period last year. The fastest growth was exported to the United States, which rose 46.1% to US$51.98 billion, which was also a record level.
This surge shattered the expectations of US politicians from both parties, who predicted earlier this year that the pandemic that started in China would reduce trade with that country and eventually bring manufacturing back to the US.
However, despite Trump’s restrictions on Chinese goods, including tariffs on imported goods worth more than $360 billion, there are few signs that global supply chains are returning to the United States. On the contrary, the long-term impact of the pandemic on the United States seems to only strengthen China’s manufacturing position.
At the beginning of this year, China adopted severe blockade measures and extensive monitoring measures to eliminate the impact of the pandemic. A large number of factories were able to restart operations faster than American companies. As many American companies-especially those based in the service industry-have been paralyzed by the new coronavirus, consumers have switched to buying manufactured goods online.
Mary E. Lovely, a senior researcher at the Peterson Institute, said that this year’s US imports from the world will logically be lower than in 2019, but China’s share of total US imports may increase.
She said: “In general, the rapid recovery of China’s economy, coupled with the fact that Americans buy products mainly made in China during the pandemic, are beyond the suppression of Trump’s tariffs.”
Such strong consumer demand has even overwhelmed the freight industry, causing freight rates to hit a record high. The surge in cargo volumes has blocked many supply chains, paralyzed major ports, and delayed the delivery of holiday gifts by weeks.
The Port of Los Angeles is the largest container cargo handling port in the United States and the gateway to many Chinese goods. Here, the containers carrying Chinese imported goods are stacked six stories high like Lego bricks. Truck drivers filled the parking lot, waiting for several hours to pick up the goods, and then shipped the goods to the entire North American continent.
October is the busiest month in the port’s 114-year history, with high traffic flow. Gene Seroka, the executive director of the port, said that on December 1st, there were 19 dockers unloading ships, compared with 10 to 12 under normal circumstances. He said that there are 12 other ships waiting at the port and, on average, they have arrived about 48 hours later than planned.
“We are going through an unprecedented period,” Ceroca said. “It’s like trying to fill a five-pound bag with 10 pounds of potatoes. This kind of order and replenishment amount has never been seen before, and now it happens to be the holiday season.”
The backlog began earlier this year-after a brief lockdown in the spring, as consumer spending began to pick up, US retailers and manufacturers began to replenish products this summer. Although the pandemic has put unemployed employees in restaurants, airlines, and theme parks into financial difficulties, the bank accounts of many of the large number of remotely-working workers in the United States are growing, and surveys show that consumer spending expectations remain high.
The preliminary November trade data snapshot released by the General Administration of Customs earlier this month did not include detailed data by product and country. However, according to IHS Markit’s US Customs Data Compilation, trade data for the first 10 months of this year show that the US imports strong consumer electronics products from China, as well as masks and other personal protective equipment used in the pandemic.
Jay Foreman, chief executive of the toy company Basic Fun, said his company went from being “paniced” about the business prospects in March and April to suddenly realizing that demand is more demanding than ever before.
“Especially when entering June, July and August, it is as if the valve is opened,” he said. “Everyone realizes that our demand for products from Asia and China is not less, but more.”