Washington — For the first time in more than two decades, Mexico last year surpassed China as the main source of goods imported to the United States. The change reflects growing tensions between Washington and Beijing, as well as the United States’ efforts to import from countries that are friendlier and closer to home.
Figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce show that the value of goods imported into the United States from Mexico rose nearly 5% between 2022 and 2023, to more than $475 billion. At the same time, the value of Chinese imports fell 20% to $427 billion.
The last time Mexican goods imported into the United States exceeded the value of Chinese imports was in 2002.
Economic relations between the United States and China have deteriorated severely in recent years as Beijing has aggressively fought on trade and made ominous military gestures in the Far East.
The Trump administration began imposing tariffs on Chinese imports in 2018, arguing that Beijing’s trade practices violated global trade rules. President Joe Biden kept those tariffs in place after taking office in 2021, making clear that antagonism toward China would be a rare area of common ground between Democrats and Republicans.
As an alternative to offshoring production to China, in which US corporations have long been engaged, the Biden administration has urged companies to seek suppliers in allied countries (“friend-shoring”) or return manufacturing to the United States. Supply chain disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic also led U.S. companies to seek supplies closer to the United States (“reshoring”).
Mexico has been among the beneficiaries of the growing shift away from dependence on Chinese factories. But the picture is more complicated than it seems. Some Chinese manufacturers have set up factories in Mexico to take advantage of the three-year-old United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, which allows duty-free trade in North America for many products.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said this week that the trade status gives Mexico new leverage, saying it would make it harder for the United States to close the two countries’ border to limit immigration, as suggested in negotiations over a border bill in the US Senate. .
“The negotiation proposes closing the border,” he said. “Do you think Americans, or Mexicans, but especially Americans, would approve of that? Companies would not accept it, maybe one day, but not a week.”
Some industries, especially automakers, have established plants on both sides of the border that depend on each other for a steady supply of parts.
Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, noted that the biggest declines in Chinese imports were in computers, electronics, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, all politically sensitive categories.
“I don’t see the United States being comfortable with a rebound in those areas in 2024 and 2025,” Scissors said, predicting that the reversal between China and Mexico in imports to the United States is likely “not a one-year blip.”
Scissors suggested that the decline in American dependence on Chinese goods partly reflects wariness of Beijing’s economic policies under President Xi Jinping. Xi’s draconian COVID-19 shutdowns crippled major sectors of the Chinese economy in 2022, and his officials have raided foreign companies in apparent counterespionage investigations.
“I think it’s American companies that belatedly decide that Xi Jinping is not trustworthy,” he said.
Overall, the U.S. deficit in goods trade with the rest of the world — the gap between the value of what the U.S. sells and what it buys abroad — shrank 10% last year to $1.06 trillion. .
Associate Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.