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Where America sends its cars, corn, and 30 other goods

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Avigator Fortuner // Shutterstock

Where America sends its cars, corn, and 30 other goods

The United States is facing a trade crisis. In absolute terms, the U.S. has the largest trade deficit of any country as of 2018. Trade wars with China, Japan, and a potential trade war with the European Union—coupled with a global economic shutdown and a strong dollar—has made the deficit balloon to more than $621 billion. While America maintains a surplus on exported services, the nation tallied a goods deficit of over $891 billion. 

While trade deficits and trade surpluses are not inherently good or bad—a trade deficit can, for example, illustrate a healthy economy highlighted by heightened national consumption—they're newly relevant as the basis of the United States' current trade policies. When one looks at the trade deficit with China, for example, one must realize that this was driven up by Americans' heavy consumption of housewares and electronics, and by currency manipulation and direct subsidization of exporting industries by the Chinese.

To help you understand this better, Stacker looked at the top 32 American exports, including cars and corn, to examine where exactly American products go. The data was derived from the United States Census' Economic Indicator Database for exports as of 2018. Exports are ranked by end-use, the principal use of the product rather than the merchandise's physical characteristics.

It should be noted that Canada and Mexico are the largest importers of American goods. The two countries are the largest importers from the U.S. in 100 out of 137 end-use product categories.

Products on this list are listed in alphabetical order and not by the total size of exports. Stay tuned to find out what product is almost exclusively exported by the United States.

You may also like: Countries spending the most on their militaries

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Dariush M // Shutterstock

Artwork, antiques, and stamps

- Total U.S. exports: $14.6 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. United Kingdom ($3.7 billion, 25.3%)
--- #2. Switzerland ($2.5 billion, 16.8%)
--- #3. Hong Kong ($2.2 billion, 14.7%)
--- #4. France ($1.5 billion, 10.4%)
--- #5. Germany ($851.6 million, 5.8%)

One of the United States' largest exports is its culture. A rare goods category where the U.S. exports more than its imports, America is the world's largest art buyer and seller. This may be due to the extreme wealth available in the United States and the fact that fine art can be used as investment vehicles.

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Pixabay

Civilian aircraft, engines, equipment, and parts

- Total U.S. exports: $130.4 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. China ($18.2 billion, 14.0%)
--- #2. France ($13.4 billion, 10.3%)
--- #3. United Kingdom ($11.3 billion, 8.7%)
--- #4. Canada ($9.0 billion, 6.9%)
--- #5. Germany ($8.5 billion, 6.5%)

The United States' largest single export group on this list, American-made aircrafts, make up the commercial fleets of many of the world's largest airlines. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics—several of the largest aircraft makers in the world—are all American corporations.

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Pixabay

Copper

- Total U.S. exports: $7.3 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Mexico ($2.1 billion, 29.2%)
--- #2. China ($1.8 billion, 24.5%)
--- #3. Canada ($1.0 billion, 13.8%)
--- #4. South Korea ($454.0 million, 6.2%)
--- #5. Japan ($323.4 million, 4.4%)

Copper trade has been affected by the U.S.-China tariff wars. As copper is needed for modern electronics and plumbing, global consumption is expected to increase. While China has largely moved to domestic consumption, the relative scarcity of the metal—as well as diminished global stockpiles—is forcing China to export, despite tariffs. However, China is not importing at the level of Mexico, which has an expanding electronics industry.

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Pixabay

Corn

- Total U.S. exports: $13.5 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Mexico ($3.2 billion, 23.6%)
--- #2. Japan ($2.8 billion, 20.8%)
--- #3. South Korea ($1.4 billion, 10.1%)
--- #4. Colombia ($995.3 million, 7.3%)
--- #5. Taiwan ($616.9 million, 4.6%)

The United States' largest agricultural crop by volume, American corn supplies have been dampened by flooding in the Corn Belt. This, along with a lessened demand for American corn, has seen corn export forecasts drop. American corn is also facing stiff competition from Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine—which, with the U.S., make up 90% of the world's corn exports.

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Cotton

- Total U.S. exports: $6.6 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Vietnam ($1.3 billion, 20.0%)
--- #2. China ($924.0 million, 14.1%)
--- #3. Turkey ($681.9 million, 10.4%)
--- #4. Pakistan ($614.7 million, 9.4%)
--- #5. Indonesia ($602.8 million, 9.2%)

Due to increased production from Mexico and decreased demand due to the U.S.-China trade war, American raw cotton exports have dropped. Since raw cotton is a significant part of America's foreign aid portfolio, the country's allocation of raw cotton to southeastern Asia makes sense, as it's a region where clothing manufacturing makes up a significant part of the economy.

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Pixabay

Cotton fiber cloth

- Total U.S. exports: $2.1 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Honduras ($633.0 million, 29.6%)
--- #2. Mexico ($522.9 million, 24.4%)
--- #3. Dominican Republic ($276.7 million, 12.9%)
--- #4. El Salvador ($120.3 million, 5.6%)
--- #5. Nicaragua ($109.0 million, 5.1%)

While Africa and the Middle East lead the world in cotton production, the United States has been increasing its output. Exports of raw cotton have not been keeping pace, but finished cloth has done better.

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Crude oil

- Total U.S. exports: $47.1 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Canada ($9.3 billion, 19.7%)
--- #2. South Korea ($5.6 billion, 11.9%)
--- #3. China ($5.4 billion, 11.4%)
--- #4. United Kingdom ($3.9 billion, 8.2%)
--- #5. Netherlands ($3.5 billion, 7.3%)

Another major part of America's foreign aid portfolio is crude oil. The discovery of shale oil and expanded hydrofracking operations have placed the United States in a position to still make strategic exports, despite being a major consumer of petroleum. The U.S. is exporting more oil than ever despite China—which was the largest buyer of American oil—halting all new imports.

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Bjoern Wylezich // Shutterstock

Gem diamonds

- Total U.S. exports: $22.4 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. India ($5.3 billion, 23.8%)
--- #2. Israel ($4.8 billion, 21.5%)
--- #3. Hong Kong ($4.2 billion, 18.8%)
--- #4. Belgium ($3.0 billion, 13.5%)
--- #5. Switzerland ($1.8 billion, 7.8%)

It's odd that India is the largest importer of American gem diamonds, considering India is the largest exporter to the United States of raw diamonds. The U.S. jewelry industry has the capacity to offer finished or cut diamonds at an unprecedented rate. The American diamond trade has defined the industry following the collapse of the De Beers monopoly.

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Carlos andre Santos // Shutterstock

Jewelry

- Total U.S. exports: $12.1 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Hong Kong ($3.2 billion, 26.2%)
--- #2. Switzerland ($2.1 billion, 17.0%)
--- #3. Canada ($815.3 million, 6.8%)
--- #4. Japan ($749.1 million, 6.2%)
--- #5. United Kingdom ($669.0 million, 5.5%)

Switzerland and China top the world's jewelry export list, but the United States comes in a strong number three. The United States imports more jewelry than its exports. America's top customers are also affluent nations like Hong Kong, Switzerland, Canada, and Japan.

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optimarc // Shutterstock

Leather and furs

- Total U.S. exports: $917.4 million
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Mexico ($218.8 million, 23.8%)
--- #2. China ($194.4 million, 21.2%)
--- #3. Italy ($190.0 million, 20.7%)
--- #4. Vietnam ($107.2 million, 11.7%)
--- #5. Canada ($31.3 million, 3.4%)

It has been a long time since Cruella de Vil sung about the virtues of a Dalmatian puppy fur coat. While such items have become controversial due to concerns over animal welfare, there is still a significant leather and fur industry in the United States. This is largely due to the emergence of new affluent markets in China, Russia, and South Korea.

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Meat and poultry

- Total U.S. exports: $19.9 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Japan ($3.9 billion, 19.4%)
--- #2. Mexico ($3.5 billion, 17.5%)
--- #3. South Korea ($2.5 billion, 12.5%)
--- #4. Canada ($2.3 billion, 11.5%)
--- #5. Hong Kong ($1.7 billion, 8.7%)

The United States is one of the world's great food baskets. While meat imports to the U.S. are considered controversial, exports from the United States are considered safe due to Department of Agriculture oversight. This led to 12.9% of all American beef, 2.6% of America's pork, and 7,261 metric tons of lamb being exported in 2017.

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nimon // Shutterstock

Medicinal equipment

- Total U.S. exports: $37.2 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Netherlands ($4.1 billion, 11.0%)
--- #2. Japan ($3.7 billion, 10.0%)
--- #3. China ($3.7 billion, 10.0%)
--- #4. Canada ($3.1 billion, 8.2%)
--- #5. Mexico ($3.0 billion, 8.1%)

Medical equipment is a major driver of both American trade and American foreign policy. The largest companies in the industry—Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, GE Healthcare, Siemens, Abbott Laboratories, Cardinal Health, and Boston Scientific—are all American companies. The international growth in the industry reflects an increased awareness in wellness among more affluent nations.

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Lubos Chlubny // Shutterstock

Metallurgical grade coal

- Total U.S. exports: $8.7 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Brazil ($1.2 billion, 13.6%)
--- #2. Japan ($909.8 million, 10.5%)
--- #3. India ($805.5 million, 9.3%)
--- #4. Ukraine ($774.2 million, 8.9%)
--- #5. Netherlands ($707.5 million, 8.1%)

Metallurgical grade coal is a low-ash, low-sulfur, low-phosphorus grade of coal that is an essential ingredient in making high grade coke—the fuel and reactant in steelmaking. Because of this, steelmaking countries will always need metallurgical coal. As metallurgical coal comes from bitumen deposits, it is not typically found in the same seams as lower grades of coal, like lignite or sub-bituminous coal, or higher grades like anthracite.

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Military aircraft

- Total U.S. exports: $1.4 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Taiwan ($250.4 million, 18.0%)
--- #2. India ($241.3 million, 17.3%)
--- #3. Saudi Arabia ($181.9 million, 13.0%)
--- #4. Australia ($120.1 million, 8.6%)
--- #5. Singapore ($96.1 million, 6.9%)

The United States is the world's armorer. Due to the prevalence of the U.S. military, demand for American military equipment and for replacement parts is consistently high. As many of the manufacturers of passenger aeronautics equipment also have military divisions, the United States is a world leader in military avionics.

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DmyTo // Shutterstock

Military apparel and footwear

- Total U.S. exports: $904.3 million
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. United Kingdom ($252.0 million, 27.9%)
--- #2. Saudi Arabia ($130.1 million, 14.4%)
--- #3. Taiwan ($85.0 million, 9.4%)
--- #4. Australia ($53.3 million, 5.9%)
--- #5. Israel ($50.2 million, 5.6%)

Many of the world's militaries wear uniforms made by American firms. Rothco, American Apparel, 5.11 Tactical, Reebok, Bluewater Defense, Under Armour, and Propper are among the American manufacturers that have made uniforms for America's allies.

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Pixabay

Military trucks and armored vehicles

- Total U.S. exports: $1.5 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Afghanistan ($445.0 million, 29.8%)
--- #2. Japan ($206.6 million, 13.8%)
--- #3. South Korea ($123.1 million, 8.2%)
--- #4. Canada ($119.2 million, 8.0%)
--- #5. Egypt ($100.7 million, 6.7%)

It is typical for American allies, NATO members, and American-trained militaries to use American military equipment, since they have ready access to and familiarity with it. The largest customers for military vehicles are countries that host the largest American military presence or countries where America recently staged major military actions.

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Brian Goodman // Shutterstock

Musical instruments

- Total U.S. exports: $2.1 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Canada ($581.3 million, 28.0%)
--- #2. Hong Kong ($178.9 million, 8.6%)
--- #3. Japan ($163.5 million, 7.9%)
--- #4. Netherlands ($118.7 million, 5.7%)
--- #5. Germany ($105.8 million, 5.1%)

American musical instrument manufacturers like Gibson, Fender, C.F. Martin, and Steinway have a significant global presence. China exceeds the U.S. in musical instrument global sales, but the United States is increasingly known for quality or high-end instruments. However, the limitations of exotic woods imports may affect future production.

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Pixabay

Natural gas liquids

- Total U.S. exports: $19.5 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Japan ($4.4 billion, 22.7%)
--- #2. Mexico ($2.2 billion, 11.4%)
--- #3. South Korea ($1.8 billion, 9.0%)
--- #4. China ($1.2 billion, 6.1%)
--- #5. Netherlands ($973.9 million, 5.0%)

The expansion of hydrofracking in the U.S. has not only expanded the nation's oil extraction production, but the production of natural gas liquids. These include liquid ethane, propane, butane, isobutane, and pentane, as well as condensate of petroleum and natural gases. While natural gas liquids can be burned as fuel or for heat, they are also useful for plastic, synthetic rubber, and petrochemical fabrication.

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Nonferrous metals

- Total U.S. exports: $8.6 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Canada ($1.3 billion, 15.5%)
--- #2. Japan ($1.1 billion, 12.8%)
--- #3. Mexico ($802.5 million, 9.3%)
--- #4. China ($759.4 million, 8.8%)
--- #5. United Kingdom ($618.5 million, 7.2%)

Nonferrous metals include aluminum, lithium, tin, lead, zinc, nickel, and other non-iron, non-precious metals. These are used for applications ranging from chemical fabrication to battery and equipment manufacturing.

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optimarc // Shutterstock

Non-monetary gold

- Total U.S. exports: $21.4 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Switzerland ($6.8 billion, 31.6%)
--- #2. United Kingdom ($6.1 billion, 28.5%)
--- #3. Hong Kong ($2.2 billion, 10.4%)
--- #4. India ($1.9 billion, 9.1%)
--- #5. Canada ($1.9 billion, 9.0%)

Non-monetary gold refers to gold that is not held as reserves by a national bank or monetary authority. Since this gold holds no direct monetary value, it is treated as a commodity. Examples include gold ore, refined gold, and gold bullion, but not gold coinage or gold jewelry.

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Pixabay

Nuclear fuel materials

- Total U.S. exports: $763.0 million
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Germany ($162.9 million, 21.4%)
--- #2. Japan ($119.1 million, 15.6%)
--- #3. Canada ($73.8 million, 9.7%)
--- #4. Netherlands ($69.9 million, 9.2%)
--- #5. China ($52.3 million, 6.9%)

The United States not only controls the largest cache of nuclear weapons on the planet, but also the largest cache of nuclear enrichment equipment. Control of this type of equipment and fear that it may be used to harm American assets and allies are fueling the United States' sanctioning of Iran. They are also a key component in the United States' relationship with North Korea. As enriched materials are not only used for nuclear weaponry but nuclear power generation, there is an active trade of said materials, but only to a limited circle of customers.

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Lapina // Shutterstock

Numismatic coins

- Total U.S. exports: $897.1 million
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Germany ($511.8 million, 57.0%)
--- #2. Hong Kong ($77.4 million, 8.6%)
--- #3. Switzerland ($47.1 million, 5.2%)
--- #4. Estonia ($37.5 million, 4.2%)
--- #5. United Kingdom ($36.8 million, 4.1%)

Numismatic coins differ from bullion coins in the sense that, like fine art, numismatic coins are valued for their aesthetics and rarity. They have emerged as a significant investment vehicle that grows independent of the world's monetary markets.

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Pixabay

Nuts

- Total U.S. exports: $9.3 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Hong Kong ($1.1 billion, 11.4%)
--- #2. Canada ($928.1 million, 10.0%)
--- #3. Spain ($734.4 million, 7.9%)
--- #4. India ($663.0 million, 7.2%)
--- #5. Germany ($654.2 million, 7.1%)

The United States is the world's largest exporter of tree nuts. California, for example, is the producer of 80% of the world's almonds, with 70% of these being exported. The current tariff war with China, as well as the potential wars with India and the European Union, are undercutting American global nut sales and hurting major nut producing states.

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Passenger cars

- Total U.S. exports: $50.4 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Canada ($14.4 billion, 28.6%)
--- #2. China ($6.7 billion, 13.2%)
--- #3. Germany ($5.8 billion, 11.6%)
--- #4. Mexico ($3.0 billion, 6.0%)
--- #5. United Arab Emirates ($1.9 billion, 3.8%)

The American car industry has suffered in recent decades. Failure to compete with Japanese exports and crippling debt nearly killed the industry, but since the government bailout, American cars have been resurgent. General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler are now in the top 10 global brands by production. Since China is a leading buyer of American cars, however, the tariff war threatens to significantly undermine America's passenger car exports.

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Pixabay

Pharmaceutical preparations

- Total U.S. exports: $54.6 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Netherlands ($5.0 billion, 9.1%)
--- #2. Belgium ($4.7 billion, 8.7%)
--- #3. Italy ($4.2 billion, 7.8%)
--- #4. Germany ($4.2 billion, 7.7%)
--- #5. Canada ($4.2 billion, 7.6%)

Pharmaceutical preparations include both human and veterinary medicinal drugs. A major component of America's commercial export and foreign aid portfolios, pharmaceutical preparations remain a key part of the U.S. export strategy, in part due to America's leadership in pharmaceutical research and development. However, with China and Singapore encouraging investment in their R&D sectors, this may soon change.

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Pixabay

Pleasure boats and motors

- Total U.S. exports: $2.4 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Canada ($674.5 million, 28.7%)
--- #2. Mexico ($276.1 million, 11.7%)
--- #3. Belgium ($165.2 million, 7.0%)
--- #4. Australia ($141.5 million, 6.0%)
--- #5. Italy ($98.4 million, 4.2%)

Pleasure boats include yachts, speedboats, fishing boats, and party flotillas. As of 2015, the United States controlled 75% of the global exports market for recreational marine craft.

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Pixabay

Precious metals (other)

- Total U.S. exports: $8.7 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Germany ($1.6 billion, 18.9%)
--- #2. United Kingdom ($1.2 billion, 14.1%)
--- #3. Italy ($1.2 billion, 13.9%)
--- #4. Japan ($837.7 million, 9.7%)
--- #5. Canada ($746.3 million, 8.6%)

Besides gold, silver, and copper, there are other rare and precious metals traded globally. Rhodium, for example, is traded for its high reflectivity and anti-corrosion capabilities. Platinum is used in jewelry and weaponry construction. Ruthenium is used in electric contacts. Osmium is used to make filaments, palladium is key to catalytic converters, and rhenium is valued for its high temperature resilience.

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Pixabay

Soybeans

- Total U.S. exports: $18.2 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. China ($3.2 billion, 17.3%)
--- #2. Mexico ($1.7 billion, 9.5%)
--- #3. Netherlands ($1.4 billion, 7.6%)
--- #4. Egypt ($1.2 billion, 6.4%)
--- #5. Indonesia ($1.0 billion, 5.8%)

China has influenced U.S. soybean exports in several ways over the past year. As the United States is the world's largest exporter of soybeans and China is the largest importer, issues like the tariff war and the rash of African swine fever in China—soybeans are largely used in animal feed—have significantly affected American exports.

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MaxyM // Shutterstock

Tanks, artillery, missiles, rockets, guns, and ammunition

- Total U.S. exports: $5.1 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Saudi Arabia ($1.5 billion, 28.8%)
--- #2. United Arab Emirates ($622.1 million, 12.2%)
--- #3. Japan ($431.5 million, 8.4%)
--- #4. Australia ($269.4 million, 5.3%)
--- #5. Qatar ($226.9 million, 4.4%)

Another part of America's military investment abroad, military-grade weaponry makes up a large part of America's export portfolio. This includes the controversial sales of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where the weapons are likely being used in the proxy war with Yemen.

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chinahbzyg // Shutterstock

Tobacco

- Total U.S. exports: $1.0 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Switzerland ($229.4 million, 21.9%)
--- #2. China ($157.9 million, 15.1%)
--- #3. Dominican Republic ($94.5 million, 9.0%)
--- #4. Mexico ($87.2 million, 8.3%)
--- #5. Indonesia ($71.3 million, 6.8%)

Tobacco remains one of America's signature crops. While the United States does not export a significant amount of manufactured tobacco products—most of the major American producers have factories situated throughout the world—it does export raw tobacco. However, American exports pale in comparison to those from the United Arab Emirates, Germany, or Poland; the U.S. controls only 3.6% of the global tobacco exports market.

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CK Foto // Shutterstock

Trucks, buses, and special purpose vehicles

- Total U.S. exports: $21.7 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Canada ($16.9 billion, 78.1%)
--- #2. Mexico ($1.1 billion, 5.3%)
--- #3. United Arab Emirates ($435.9 million, 2.0%)
--- #4. Australia ($301.4 million, 1.4%)
--- #5. China ($260.7 million, 1.2%)

America's heavy truck sales have benefited greatly from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with Mexico and Canada making up more than 82% of all global sales. This could collapse in the future should the United States exit NAFTA, as an increase in tariffs could significantly undermine America's share of the market currently dominated by Japan, China, and the European Union.

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Drotyk Roman // Shutterstock

Wheat

- Total U.S. exports: $5.6 billion
- Top export destinations:
--- #1. Mexico ($752.9 million, 13.5%)
--- #2. Japan ($701.3 million, 12.6%)
--- #3. Philippines ($628.1 million, 11.3%)
--- #4. South Korea ($364.4 million, 6.5%)
--- #5. Taiwan ($267.4 million, 4.8%)

The United States was once the world's largest wheat producer, but not anymore; Russia claimed the title with its 2018 harvest. With U.S. production suffering from record heat and flooding, and China stockpiling both its domestic production and global exports, global wheat supplies are facing near-crisis levels.

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