Exporters from most U.S. states experienced dismal sales to China last year as tariffs slammed products ranging from wheat and whiskey to ginseng and gas.
Total U.S. merchandise exports to China fell 11% last year to about $107 billion, according to the latest data from the U.S. Commerce Department. Particularly hard hit were some of the nation’s largest exporters to the Asian country — Texas, Florida and Alabama — which each saw sales plunge by more than 25%.
The figures don’t yet reflect two significant developm
ents for the world economy this year: The U.S-China trade deal signed in January that is supposed to significantly boost American exports to China and the coronavirus outbreak in the Asian nation.
Amid the casualties, though, were some bright spots, including the presidential swing state of North Carolina, where exports to China jumped 40% last year to $3.25 billion, driven in large part by pharmaceutical sales.
China’s appetite for tobacco from North Carolina waned last year to virtually nothing, said John Loyack, vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. But drug companies more than filled the void by shipping $1.3 billion worth of products, Loyack said. Corporations ranging from Denmark’s Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical Industries to New Jersey-based Merck & Co. have set up major operations in North Carolina in recent years, making it one of the top pharmaceutical-industry states in the U.S.
The relaxing of Chinese restrictions on certain medical imports helped boost sales, he said. “To be honest, we thought we’d be taking it in the teeth in 2019,” he said. “But it was an amazing year.”