Analyzing the Dynamics of U.S. Plastics Materials and Resin Trade in 2023

February 20, 2024

Perc Pineda, PhD
Chief Economist, PLASTICS

Plastic materials and resin trade figures for 2023 exhibited a mixed performance compared to 2022. In terms of dollar value, U.S. exports of plastic materials and resin experienced a 10.8% decline, dropping from $44,177.02 million to $39,397.41 million on a free alongside (FAS) basis,1 according to preliminary trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Import and Export Dynamics

This reduction in export value, however, was less pronounced than the 24.5% decrease in the value of imports, which declined from $22,893.35 million in 2022 to $17,290.56 million in 2023 on a customs value basis. The diminished U.S. manufacturing activity in 2023 contributed to the decline in imports of plastic materials and resin, a versatile commodity widely used across the manufacturing sector.

Trade Balance Improvement

Despite the apparent deterioration in both export and import figures, the U.S. trade balance in plastic materials and resin improved, marking a 3.9% increase in 2023 compared to the previous year. This improvement is attributed to a more substantial decrease in the dollar value of imports, which declined at a higher rate compared to the decrease in exports. In 2022, the U.S. trade surplus for plastic materials and resin amounted to $21,283.67 million, and it rose to $22,106.85 million in 2023. This positive development suggests a more favorable balance in the trade of these materials for the U.S. plastics materials and resin manufacturers.

Impact of Weakened Manufacturing

The impact of a weakened manufacturing sector on the trade of plastic materials and resin becomes evident when examining the trade quantities. U.S. imports of these commodities dropped from 9,571.68 million kilograms (M kg) to 8,812.95 M kg. The 7.9% decline in U.S. imports in 2023 can be attributed not only to the subdued manufacturing activity but also to the consequences of a weakened U.S. dollar throughout the 2023 trade cycle.

Global Trade Dynamics

It is essential to acknowledge that plastic materials and resin are globally traded commodities denominated in U.S. dollars. The depreciation of the U.S. dollar in 2023 from its 2022 highs resulted in elevated import costs. Concurrently, the weakened dollar bolstered U.S. export competitiveness, leading to a significant 13.7% increase in U.S. exports of plastic materials and resin, rising from 20,516.44 M kg in 2022 to 23,331.21 M kg in 2023. Comparing this to the decline in the dollar value of exports suggests that prices of plastic materials and resin have continued their global descent.

Price Trends and Indices

Examining the Producer Price Index (PPI) for plastic materials and resin commodities, the index reached its peak in the second half of 2021 through the first half of 2022. Subsequently, resin prices experienced a downturn. The PPI by commodity for plastic resins and materials fell by 6.4% in December compared to the same month a year earlier.

1 The FAS (free alongside ship) value is the value of exports at the U.S. port based on the transaction price, including inland freight, insurance, and other charges. The value excludes the cost of loading the merchandise aboard the carrier and any further costs.