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What’s the Difference?—Comparing U.S. and Chinese Trade Data, March 27, 2009

This paper examines the differences in the trade data from China and the United States. Written by Michael F. Martin, specialist in Asian Affairs.
March 27, 2009

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There is a large and growing difference between the official trade statistics released by the United States and the People’s Republic of China. According to the United States, the 2008 bilateral trade deficit with China was $266.3 billion. According to China, its trade surplus with the United States was $170.8 billion—$95.5 billion less.

This paper examines the differences in the trade data from the two nations in two ways. First, it compares the trade figures at the two digit level using the Harmonized System to discern any patterns in the discrepancies between the U.S. and Chinese data. This comparison reveals that over two-thirds of the difference in the value of China’s exports to the United States is attributable to five types of goods. The second approach to examining the differing trade data involves a review of the existing literature on the technical and non-technical sources of the trade data discrepancies.

This report is updated annually, after the release of official trade data by China and the United States.

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