How Much Time Did The Coronavirus Pandemic Cost In U.S.- China Trade?

One year and one coronavirus pandemic after the U.S. and China agreed to the 'Phase 1' trade deal in January 2020, the trailing twelve month average of the combined value of goods traded between the two countries has returned to its November 2019 level.

At $47.6 billion, this measure is now roughly at the level a "no coronavirus pandemic" projected for March-April 2020. One way to think about that result is that it means the coronavirus pandemic has cost the U.S. and China the equivalent of 9 and a half months worth of lost trade. Here's a chart showing the combined value of U.S. exports to China and imports from China in the period from January 2008 through January 2021, where you can see how different this measure is from what could have been.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The more conventional way to read this chart is to measure the vertical difference between the counterfactual projection and the actual trajectory of the combined value of U.S.-China trade. By that reckoning, the level of trade between the two countries is $9.7 billion less than what we projected for the month of January 2021 nearly a year ago.

Comparing January 2020 with January 2021 shows the year-over-year gain is $11.5 billion in the value of trade between the two nations. Looking forward, we anticipate we'll see some spectacular year-over-year gains compared to the February and March 2020 coronavirus pandemic recession lows.


Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. China / U.S. Foreign Exchange Rate. G.5 Foreign Exchange Rates. Accessed 5 March 2021.

U.S. Census Bureau. Trade in Goods with China. Accessed 5 March 2021.

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