US-Southeast Asia Trade Triples over Last Two Decades

US Exports to ASEAN

Newly updated data from the Foreign Trade section of the US Census Bureau confirms that Southeast Asia, when taken as an entity, continues to be a major partner for US trade in goods. Over the last twenty years, US trade volume with Southeast Asia has tripled, from $45.9 billion in 1990 to $176 billion in 2010. During the same period, total US foreign trade also tripled, from $889 billion to $3.12 trillion. As a result, trade with Southeast Asia has held steady at just over 5% of total US foreign trade.

In addition, the US trade deficit with Southeast Asia is now much lower than with other major US trading partners in 2010. Although the US foreign trade deficit was $634 billion in 2010, Southeast Asia’s portion of that was just $39.9 billion. By comparison, the US trade deficit with China was $273 billion and with Japan was $59.8 billion.

In 1990, US exports to countries in the region were valued at $18.8 billion, or 4.8% of US total exports. By 2010, the same figure reached $67.9 billion, or 5.3% of total US exports. Although Southeast Asia’s share of US foreign trade is steady, a closer look at US trade patterns with the individual countries yields an image of intraregional dynamism.

America’s largest Southeast Asia export relationship is with Singapore. US exports grew from $8.02 billion in 1990 to $29.1 billion in 2010. More considerably, US exports to Malaysia and Vietnam expanded fourfold in the last twenty years. The Malaysia figure increased from $3.4 billion in 1990 to $14.0 billion in 2010, while exports to Vietnam shot from $252.3 million in 2000 to $1.19 billion by 2010.

US imports from Southeast Asia have expanded at an even faster rate than exports. Imports from Malaysia grew almost fivefold over the last twenty years to $25.9 billion in 2010, overtaking Singapore and Thailand as the region’s largest sources of US imports. Remarkably, Vietnam’s exports to the United States grew nearly 80-fold from $199 million in 1995 to $14.9 billion in 2010. Vietnam ranked fifth in the region in exports to the United States, after Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia.

The balance of trade with Southeast Asia has also changed over the past two decades. Most dramatically, the United States has successfully turned its $1.8 billion deficit with

US Imports from ASEAN

Singapore in 1990 into a surplus of $11.7 billion in 2010. And while Southeast Asian countries have generally improved their terms of trade with the United States over the last twenty years, Cambodia and Vietnam are particularly notable in this regard. Cambodia reversed a $21.8 million trade deficit with the United States in 1995 into a $2.1 billion trade surplus in 2010. Over the last fifteen years, Vietnam’s trade surplus with the United States has expanded from almost $200 million in 1995 to $13.7 billion in 2010, a nearly 70-fold increase.

Looking at other trade partners in Asia, Japan and China have also seen absolute increases in trade volume with the United States during this period: from $138 billion in 1990 to $181 billion in 2010 for Japan, and from $20.0 billion in 1990 to $176 billion in 2010 for China. China’s share has increased from 2.3% in 1990 to a commanding 14.3% of total US foreign trade in 2010. This contrasts with the sharp contraction in Japan’s share of total US foreign trade, from 15.6% in 1990 to 5.7% in 2010.