Much of the Value of “Chinese” Imports is Added Outside of China

(p. A17) In a 2006 paper, Stanford University economist Lawrence Lau found that Chinese value-added accounted for about 37% of the total value of U.S. imports from China. In 2008, using a different methodology, U.S. International Trade Commission economist Robert Koopman, along with economists Zhi Wang and Shang-jin Wei, found the figure to be closer to 50%. In other words, despite all the hand-wringing about the value of imports from China, one-half to nearly two thirds of that value is not even Chinese. Instead, it reflects the efforts of workers and capital in other countries, including the U.S. In overstating Chinese value by 100% to 200%, the official U.S. import statistics are a poor proxy for job loss.

Seldom noted in the union-controlled discussion of trade on Capitol Hill is that the jobs of large numbers of American workers depend on imports from China. The proliferation of transnational production and supply chains has joined higher-value-added U.S. manufacturing, design, and R&D activities with lower-value manufacturing and assembly operations in China.
According to a widely cited 2007 study by Greg Linden, Kenneth L. Kraemer and Jason Dedrick of the University of California, Irvine, each Apple iPod costs $150 to produce. But only about $4 of that cost is Chinese value-added. Most of the value comes from components made in other countries, including the U.S. Yet when those iPods are imported from China, where they are snapped together, the full $150 is counted as an import from China, adding to the trade deficit and inflating EPI’s job-loss figures.
In reality, those imported iPods support thousands of U.S. jobs up the value chain–in engineering, design, finance, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, retail and elsewhere. A 25% tariff on imports from China would penalize the non-Chinese companies and workers who create most of the iPod’s value.

For the full commentary, see:
DANIEL IKENSON. “China Trade and American Jobs; Studies suggest that one-half to two-thirds of the value of ‘Chinese’ imports is added in other countries, including the U.S.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 2, 2010): A17.

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