Against the backdrop of ongoing uncertainties in the international trade outlook—from the ambiguity of the ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by the governments of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, the stop-and-go trade negotiations to resolve the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute, to U.S. threats of higher tariffs on automobile imports—U.S. plastics industry exports, which includes the sum of resins, plastics products, machinery and molds exports, increased in the first quarter of 2019 while imports of the same decreased. Mexico, Canada, and China remained the top three export markets of the U.S. plastics industry.

In the first quarter, plastics industry exports topped $15.8 billion—a 1.0% increase from the previous quarter and 0.7% above the first quarter last year based on data from the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). Imports totaled $13.8 billion resulting in a trade surplus of $2.0 billion. The trade surplus was attributed to the $8.98 billion in resins exports.

The majority of U.S. plastics exports were resins followed by plastics products, which has been the trend for some time. Resin exports rose 3.6% from the first quarter last year and plastics products exports fell 2.3% over the same period. However, machinery and plastics molds exports were 9.1% and 17.6% lower than a year ago.[1] 

Plastics industry imports in the first quarter were 7.2% lower than the previous quarter and 8.5% lower than the first quarter last year. Imports of resins fell 9.9% and plastics products imports decreased 10.8% year over year. While plastics molds imports fell 13.3% from the first quarter last year, machinery imports flattened over the same period.

The trade outlook for 2019 and 2020 is expected to moderate from last year. This year, growth in the volume of trade in goods and services is expected at 3.4%—lower than the 3.8% last year—but higher next year at a 3.9%, according to the forecast of the International Monetary Fund. However, the layer of uncertainties from prolonged U.S.-China trade friction on top of weak global economic growth could cause trade volume to be lower than current projections, which will negatively impact the U.S. plastics industry trade balance.


[1] Recent monthly, quarterly, and 1997-2018 annual data can be downloaded from the Plastics Trade Statistics Quarterly Update at