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How is COVID-19 affecting US trade?

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How is COVID-19 affecting US trade?

Brookings Institution,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

COVID-19’s impact on US trade is uneven.

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Eye Opening
  • Overview


The COVID-19 recession has upended global trade, and its impacts across and within economic sectors are asymmetric. Some industries are faring better than others: US imports of pharmaceuticals have increased, while exports of services such as hospitality and tourism have been decimated. The Brookings Institution’s David Dollar and Anna Newby discuss the trade data’s implications for the US economy in this illuminating episode of the Dollars and Sense podcast.


The coronavirus pandemic is affecting American imports and exports in different ways.

The pandemic’s recessionary impacts have been greater on US imports than on exports. In the first half of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, US crude oil imports declined some 40%, as COVID-19 lockdowns curtailed people’s driving. Car imports also experienced a steep drop. And US television and cell phone imports decreased by 25%, likely due to consumers’ income uncertainty. Pharmaceutical imports, though, jumped about 15%.

US exports are down by 16% overall in the first six months of 2020.  Hardest hit are America’s exports of services, which fell by 50%. Among these services are those provided to foreign tourists and students, who would typically spend on lodging, meals, entertainment and education. However, US exports of...

About the Authors

The Dollars and Sense podcast series, hosted by Brookings Institution senior fellow David Dollar, looks at global trade issues. Anna Newby is communications director and managing editor of foreign policy at Brookings.

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