For the first time in seven years, the leading U.S. export is not the broad aviation category that includes jets made by Boeing
In fact, even though U.S. exports are up from the record pace of 2021 by more than $100 billion, the main aviation category has fallen to a No. 4 rank for the first time in at least two decades.
This is the first in a series of columns about the nation’s top 10 exports. It follows similar series I did for the countries that are the nation’s top 10 trade partners and one for the airports, seaports and border crossings that are the nation’s top 10 “ports.”
Last year, the value of refined petroleum exports topped the civilian aircraft category for the first time since 2012 and only the third time in at least two decades. But the aviation category — there are also other, smaller aviation-related categories related to, for example, engines and avionics — still finished second.
Through April of this year, the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, the top 10 are:
- Refined petroleum,
G and other natural gases,
- The primary aviation category,
- Passenger vehicles,
- Computer chips,
- Vaccines, plasma and other blood “fractions,”
- Motor vehicle parts,
- Medicines in pill form,
- Medical devices.
As is the case with the aviation category, the last three are both somewhat broad and not “all inclusive.” In other words, there are other categories of motor vehicle parts, medicines and medical devices.
I will explore those three, as well as the other seven, in greater detail in the coming weeks.
There is an asterisk to this top 10 list. I am skipping over a category called low-value shipments, not because it is unimportant but because it is a mishmash of products that only share one common trait: Their value is less than $2,500 and, consequently, not subject to government regulations as stringent.
That means an assortment of products get lumped together — as long as the value is less than $2,500. Quite obviously it is not an insignificant category — the 2022 value puts it right behind the sixth-ranked computer chips. While it once was largely the province of courier document shipments from FedEx
Of the top 10 exports — for those of you familiar with the system used to categorize exports and imports, this ranking is based on the four-digit harmonized tariff code — nine have increased in value through April. The only exception is passenger vehicles exports, which are down 5.65%.
The value of refined petroleum exports has increased 84.56%, oil by 74.38%, and natural gases by 40.66%. The only top 10 export to increase more rapidly than any of those three through April was the vaccine category, which jumped 41.96%.
The total value through April for all U.S. exports was $650.58 billion. That is 18.75% ahead of the pace set in 2021, when the annual total was a record-breaking $1.75 trillion.
Much is made about the need to bring manufacturing back to the United States, and certainly America does import a great deal of manufactured products. The truth is, however, that the United States ranks behind only China and Germany for manufacturing output. With the world’s largest economy, Americans consume a great deal of what we manufacture.
That said, of the top 10 exports, only one is truly a raw material: Oil. The other nine, to some degree, involve manufacturing.
Seven are what we might typically think of as manufactured goods — aircraft, passenger vehicles, computer chips, vaccines, motor vehicle parts, medicine and medical devices. Another one, refined petroleum products such as gasoline, jet fuel, propane and the like, also undergoes a manufacturing process. Even natural gas, when converted to liquified natural gas for transport by ship, undergoes a manufacturing process. Oil, of course, does not.
These 10 exports listed above made up 33.21% of all U.S. exports through April, with all 10 topping $10 billion. That happened for the first time in the first four months of 2021. This year, however, the top 13 topped $10 billion, a record.
The other two — in addition to low-value shipments — are cell phones and related equipment and soybeans. The former has topped $10 billion through April eight of the last nine years, while soybeans had never done so. Soybean exports generally pick up later in the year, after the traditional harvesting season.
The top 118 export categories, out of more than 1,200 with exports, topped $1 billion through April, a list that would include a wide variety of products:
- Artificial body parts, such as knees and hip joints
- Aircraft engines
- Transmission shafts
- Diesel engines
- Makeup and skin-care products
- Rubber tires