United States Slips to Third

It used to surprise audiences a few yeas ago to learn the the largest exporter in the world was the United States. In fact, we held that title for a long time, until Germany nudged us aside a year or two ago. Then we were the second largest exporter.

The world does not stand still and it’s a darn competitive place out there. Yesterday the World Trade Organization released the latest trade data and in the last six months of 2006, China nudged us out of even second place, making the US the third largest exporter in the world. With current trends, China will become the world’s largest exporter in 2008. Here’s the verbatim from the WTO:

Since 2000, China has more than doubled its share in world merchandise exports and ranks as the third largest exporter and importer in merchandise trade. Despite its strong export expansion, China remained the third largest merchandise exporter in 2006. However, in the second half of 2006, China’s merchandise exports exceeded those of the United States for the first time.

This news should catch the attention of a lot of Americans. US exports have been growing strongly the past two years and they have been one of the bright spots in the economic expansion here. It’s well documented that jobs in exporting firms pay more than jobs in companies that sell only domestically. Innovation drives a big part of our exports and if the US is slipping, what does it say about policies here that encourage exporting and innovation?

While we slip down the rungs, many in Congress seem to be in a mood to reject trade agreements that would bring down many of the barriers that put a lid on US export growth. Unions want labor provisions added even though the stall that may result from this posture will lead to the erosion of high paying jobs–both union and non-union–among U.S. exporters. Is it possible that we have elected officials who aren’t concerned about this slippage and will just shrug it off if we slip to fifth or sixth?

For the full WTO news release, click here.