America's fastest-growing exports
The United States is experiencing higher-than-typical export levels. Despite a trade war with China and brewing trade troubles with the European Union, the U.S. doubled oil exports in 2018 and saw record-high pork production and exports. Even with a rollback on civilian aircraft exports, the United States is tightening the trade gap—in part due to the increased strength of the global economy.
From 2013 to 2018, the United States export portfolio grew by 5.4%. While that portfolio is improving overall, there are certain sectors outpacing others. These include obvious products like space rockets and military arms as well as non-obvious items, like human hair. As America is a service-based free market economy, its export portfolio includes products of services rendered (such as chemical manufacturing and ore refinement) and useful waste from the nation's manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
Using the Census Bureau's USA Trade Online tool, Stacker has examined 97 commodity groups to determine which had the largest 5-year growth from 2013 to 2018.
The Census' commodity group labels represent buckets that may contain disjointed or unrelated products that happen to share a single common characteristic. Stacker will attempt to explain what the commodity groups are and why they are relevant, when applicable.
Stay tuned to find out why the United States exports animal guts and human hair.
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#20. Base metals, ceramics, and metal compounds
- 2013–2018 export growth: 16.2%
- 2013 exports: $2.7 billion
- 2018 exports: $3.2 billion
Base metals refer to tungsten, molybdenum, tantalum, magnesium, cobalt, bismuth, cadmium, titanium, zirconium, antimony, manganese, and beryllium waste and scraps. This also includes the waste and scraps of heat-resistant materials made of ceramics and metal compounds. This Census category further includes the term "nesoi," which refers to “not elsewhere specified or indicated”—items that are exported between nations under an export license, but not necessarily reported as part of a nation's official export portfolio. This can include waste to be processed elsewhere.
#19. Salt, sulfur, earth and stone, lime and cement plaster
- 2013–2018 export growth: 16.3%
- 2013 exports: $2.6 billion
- 2018 exports: $3.0 billion
The United States' emergence as a major salt exporter is a change in national policy. The second-largest salt producer in the world, the United States traditionally held its salt in reserve instead of exporting it. The vastness of America's resources was thought necessary to support American industry and infrastructure, including new construction projects, road salting, and chemical formulation. New synthetic materials and new trading policies, however, have changed this thinking.
#18. Art of stone, plaster, cement, asbestos, mica
- 2013–2018 export growth: 16.7%
- 2013 exports: $3.5 billion
- 2018 exports: $4.1 billion
Stone art includes not just sculptures, but also mosaics, plaster moldings, wall paneling, wall finishes, ceilings, HVAC gratings, ornamental inlays, walkway paving, and applied art techniques like plaster on canvas. This category, however, excludes tools, lithographs, impregnated fabrics, coated or impregnated papers, clocks, furniture or furniture fixtures, drawing tools, or toys.
#17. Vegetable textile fibers, vegetable fibers, paper yarns, woven fabrics
- 2013–2018 export growth: 17.8%
- 2013 exports: $16.8 million
- 2018 exports: $19.8 million
This category refers to vegetable textile fibers, paper yarns, and woven fabrics made of paper yarns. Flax, coconut, jute, coir, and hemp raw and processed material, as well as waste, are included in this category.
#16. Tobacco and manufactured tobacco substitutes
- 2013–2018 export growth: 21.1%
- 2013 exports: $1.9 billion
- 2018 exports: $2.3 billion
Despite the recommendations of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which sought to reduce tobacco production worldwide to limit demand, the United States has been steadily increasing tobacco exports. The United States is a signatory to the WHO treaty, but has yet to ratify it.
#15. Aircraft, spacecraft, and parts thereof
- 2013–2018 export growth: 21.1%
- 2013 exports: $114.9 billion
- 2018 exports: $139.1 billion
With many of the largest aerospace firms—including Boeing, Northup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation, Raytheon, and SpaceX—based in the United States, it is unsurprising that the U.S. leads the world in aerospace exports. The U.S. has maintained dominance in this sector for at least the last three years, with China being the nation's biggest customer.
#14. Arms and ammunition, parts and accessories thereof
- 2013–2018 export growth: 21.4%
- 2013 exports: $4.6 billion
- 2018 exports: $5.6 billion
The United States' recent increase in arms exports is controversial. As Saudi Arabia is America's leading customer, the U.S. has been accused of offering backdoor support to the Yemen War. The U.S. provides more than one-third of the world's arms exports, with client selection based on strategic partnerships and existing diplomatic relationships. The current administration's suggestion that the arms sales to Saudi Arabia are purely a business decision, then, is a departure from past policy.
#13. Pharmaceutical products
- 2013–2018 export growth: 21.9%
- 2013 exports: $39.7 billion
- 2018 exports: $48.4 billion
This classification does not include food or beverages formulated for oral consumption for patients with specific diseases or conditions. Smoking cessation products, dentistry plasters, soaps or essential oils in solution, and non-therapeutic blood albumen are also excluded. Products that form this group include prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as items used in a hospital or veterinary setting for the treatment of injuries or illness.
#12. Essential oils, perfumery, cosmetics
- 2013–2018 export growth: 22.2%
- 2013 exports: $11.1 billion
- 2018 exports: $13.6 billion
The increase in exports of perfumes and cosmetics typically speaks to increased affluence abroad. As these products are not considered essential, they are regularly used as a measure of consumer confidence, and the availability of surplus money in the importing economies.
#11. Headgear and parts thereof
- 2013–2018 export growth: 24.3%
- 2013 exports: $263.8 million
- 2018 exports: $328.0 million
This category is limited to hats—including fashion, athletic, and safety—hairnets, hat forms, headbands, and components for the previously-listed headwear. Mufflers, scarves, shawls, veils, mantillas, headgear made of or for the removal of asbestos, toy hats, and any worn headwear are not included in this group.2018 All rights reserved.