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The 9 U.S. cities selling the most goods to China

Joe Klamar / AFP - Getty Images file

The Los Angeles metro area leads the U.S. in exports to China, and many of the goods shipped from there pass through the Port of Long Beach.

Last year, U.S. exports to China topped $100 billion for the first time. The country is now the third-largest importer of U.S. goods, behind Canada and Mexico. The total value of products being shipped to China is growing faster than any other country in the world. For many U.S. cities, China is the largest and fastest-growing importer of goods and services. In 2011, crop production, computers and electronics, chemicals, and transportation equipment were the four largest exports to the country.

While not the biggest overall, China is the largest recipient of U.S. goods from 28 separate states. It is also the biggest export market of many metropolitan regions within those states. Earlier this year, the International Trade Administration, also known as the ITA and a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, released data on total exports by metropolitan statistical area to each country. 24/7 wall St. reviewed the nine metropolitan areas that export the most to China.

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As is the case nationwide, the value of goods being shipped to China is growing quickly in these metro regions. In each of these nine markets, the value of goods shipped everywhere else has grown by at least 22 percent between 2005 and 2011, while the value of the goods shipped to China has grown by at least 42 percent. In Minneapolis, one of the cities with the most exports to China, the value of goods sent to the country rose by 268 percent. In Detroit, exports to China grew by 482 percent.

The U.S. government's definition of an exporter of a good leaves some room for interpretation. As a result, an exporting city includes the place where a good was manufactured from scratch, where a good was imported and assembled or simply the last point before the good left the country.

According to Marc Ross, director of communications at the U.S.-China Business Council, this leads to some port cities having a disproportionate level of exports that may have barely been manufactured in the area, if at all. This means that port cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston, all among the largest exporters to China, will have a disproportionate amount of listed export goods relative to the amount they actually manufactured or assembled.

Because this is a review of the cities that export the most goods to China, in dollar terms rather than as a proportion of their total exports, many of the cities on this list are simply the largest overall exporters. In New York, which shipped more than $100 billion in goods last year, just $7.4 billion, or 7.1 percent, were shipped to China. In Detroit, which ships the eighth largest amount of goods to China of any U.S. metro region, the total value of those exports comes to just 4.1 percent of the metro area’s total exports. China is only Detroit’s fourth-largest export market, behind Saudi Arabia.

Of course, these areas also have specific industries that are among America’s largest exporters. In Detroit and Seattle, transportation equipment, the U.S.’s fourth-largest export to China, represents the biggest overall export. In St. Louis, chemicals — the third biggest U.S. export to China — are the most common product it ships to other countries. In San Francisco, Portland and Los Angeles, computers and electronic parts are the biggest exports as well as the second-largest U.S. to China export. Finally, Minneapolis’ largest export, crop production, is the biggest U.S. export to China.

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24/7 Wall St. relied on 2011 Metropolitan Export Series data from the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration to identify the nine U.S. cities with the most exports, in U.S. dollars, to China. We also listed the change from 2005 exports to China and total exports, both as a total value and as a proportion of total exports. We obtained national and state export data for 2011 from the U.S.-China Business Council’s report “U.S. Exports to China by State.”

These are the nine cities selling the most goods to China.

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif. 

  •  Exports to China: $8 billion
  •  Percent total exports to China: 11 percent
  •  Total exports: $72.7 billion
  •  Biggest export: Computers and electronic Products (29.1 percent)
  •  Percent increase exports to China (2005-2011): 118 percent

Nearly $8 billion worth of exports from the Los Angeles metro area went to China, making it the biggest U.S. exporter to that country. However, China was not the country to receive the most exports from LA. Mexico received $17.7 billion in exports from the area, while Canada received $8.6 billion. Computers and electronics comprise the largest share of exports, with more than $21 billion worth being shipped overseas. Computers and electronics exports have grown rapidly in just the past few years. In 2010, such exports amounted to just under $18 billion, while in 2009 that figure was just under $12 billion. The Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach are the busiest and second-busiest container ports in the country. In 2011, the Port of Los Angeles became the first port in the United States to ship more than 2 million containers carrying U.S. goods.

2. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.

  •  Exports to China: $7.44 billion
  •  Percent total exports to China: 7.1 percent
  •  Total exports: $105.1 billion
  •  Biggest export: Miscellaneous manufactured commodities (19.5 percent)
  •  Percent increase exports to China (2005-2011): Not available

Although Houston nearly overtook the top spot for total exports thanks to the oil boom, the New York metropolitan area remained the largest exporter of goods and services. Exports from the region grew by 23.5 percent from just a year before to $105.1 billion. As recently as 2008, China was not even among the metro area’s top five export markets. By 2011, however, China was the third-largest recipient of exports from the New York region. The $7.4 billion in the region’s exports to China was up from just over $6 billion in 2010 and less than $4.5 billion in 2009. The New York area ships a variety of products overseas. At 19.5 percent of total exports, “miscellaneous manufactured commodities” was the most exported item from the New York area, followed by chemicals at 16.6 percent and primary metals at 9.3 percent.

3. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.

  •  Exports to China: $6 billion
  •  Percent total exports to China: 14.6 percent
  •  Total exports: $41.1 billion
  •  Biggest export: Transportation equipment (64.6 percent)
  •  Percent increase exports to China (2005-2011): 42 percent

China was Seattle’s top export market in 2011 for the third year in a row, accounting for 14.6 percent of the area’s total exports. In addition, almost $2 billion in exports were sent to Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China. Transportation equipment, one of China’s biggest imports from the United States, comprised $26.2 billion of all of Seattle area’s exports. In the entire state of Washington, $4 billion in transportation equipment went to China in 2011. Boeing Co.'s factory in Everett, outside of Seattle, makes the 747, 767, 777 and the 787 Dreamliner airplanes, a key export of the area. Washington’s exports to China, which totaled $11.2 billion in 2011, grew 489 percent from 2000 to 2011, while total exports only grew 76 percent.

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4. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Tex.

  •  Exports to China: $5.33 billion
  •  Percent total exports to China: 5.1 percent
  •  Total exports: $104.5 billion
  •  Biggest export: Petroleum and coal products (33.7 percent)
  •  Percent increase exports to China (2005-2011): 123 percent

In August, Global Trade Magazine ranked Houston as the second-largest city in the United States in terms of export volume, behind only New York. But the ITA notes that China was only the fourth-largest export market for the metropolitan area. Mexico was the largest beneficiary of Houston’s trade, receiving 16 percent of the area’s total exports, followed by Canada and Brazil, at 10.4 percent and 6.8 percent respectively. Nevertheless, total exports to China have grown nearly 123 percent between 2005 and 2011. Petroleum and coal products are the area’s largest export, comprising nearly $35.2 billion in 2011, or 33.7 percent of all trade. The U.S. has slowly begun to wean itself off foreign oil in recent years and has become a net exporter of oil in 2011 for the first time in decades. No region has benefited from this boom more than Houston, as exports of petroleum and coal products in terms of dollar value have grown 405 percent since 2005.

5. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis.

  •  Exports to China: $4.2 billion
  •  Percent total exports to China: 15.9 percent
  •  Total exports: $26.2 billion
  •  Biggest export: Crop production (28.9 percent)
  •  Percent increase exports to China (2005-2011): 268 percent

In addition to being the 10th-largest metro area by exports, Minneapolis is the fifth-largest exporter to China. Canada, being the region’s nearest neighbor, is the primary recipient of these goods, and China is second on the list. In Minnesota, exports to China grew by 835 percent between 2000 and 2011, while exports to the rest of the world grew just 82 percent over the same period. Minneapolis’ biggest exported product in 2011 was crops, with nearly $7.6 billion exported worldwide. The world’s largest food processor, Cargill Inc., is based in Minnetonka, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. Meanwhile, computers and electronics, one of China’s biggest imports from the U.S., comprised $3.2 billion worth of Minneapolis’ exports.

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