The recent economic performance of the eight industries has varied widely. The U.S. metals industry, which is still very large, has declined significantly overall in employment and sales over the last decade. Nonetheless, in 1988 much of the industry was operating at capacity, and exports were once again on the increase. At the other extreme, the biomaterials industry, which started from a very small base, is in a period of very rapid growth.

Table 2.3 shows the international trade balances for seven of the eight industries surveyed. The aerospace and chemical industries are healthy exporters and contribute substantially to the U.S. position in international trade. Although the trade balance for the chemical industry has declined somewhat as production of petrochemicals has grown in the Middle East and manufacture of synthetic apparel fibers has shifted to the Far East, this negative trend seems to have slowed recently. As is well known, imports of automobiles and petroleum have had an extremely negative effect on the U.S. balance of payments. A particularly worrisome trend is the decline in the trade balance for high-technology industries such as electronics and telecommunications. The biomaterials industry, in which the United States has a strong position, is omitted from the table because the industry is comparatively small.

Of the eight industries surveyed, two are primarily producers of materials. The metals industry has a well-defined traditional role as a producer of bulk and formed metals. However, the chemical industry, which historically has been a supplier of bulk chemicals and polymers, is undergoing rapid change. American chemical companies are diversifying into biotechnology, materials for the electronics industry, ceramics, and specialty metals (such as amorphous metals prepared by rapid solidification techniques). In fact, they are becoming broad-spectrum producers of materials, with an emphasis on high-value products. To some extent, the growth of the biomaterials industry is occurring under the wing of the chemical industry.

TABLE 2.3 International Trade Balances for Seven Selected Industries (billions of dollars)

Industries

1982

1984

1985

1986

1987

Aerospace

+11.1

+10.2

+12.3

+11.7

+15.1

Automotive

–10.4

–20.7

–26.5

–35.8

–42.4

Chemical

+12.4

+10.7

+8.5

+8.5

+9.3

Electronics

+6.7

+2.5

+2.6

+0.6

–0.1

Energy

–53.3

–52.7

–44.2

–30.8

–38.3

Metals

–9.5

–12.9

–11.6

–9.6

–10.8

Telecommunications

+0.2

–1.0

–1.2

–1.3

–1.7

 

SOURCE: Data are abstracted from U.S. Industrial Outlook 1989, published by the International Trade Administration, Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.



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