BEIJING — While the U.S. trade deficit with China continues to soar, a surge in U.S. exports is emerging as a bright spot in the often-troubled trade ties between the world's largest economy and its largest foreign creditor.
With a richer China showing a growing appetite for U.S. products, the flow includes an increasing volume of American soybeans, cars, airplanes and medicine, and even garbage that can be mined for copper and aluminium. Overall, U.S. exports to China are up nearly 50 percent in value since 2008.
The surge is happening without much change in Chinese government policies and without much specific help from the Obama administration, which has a stated goal of doubling all U.S. exports globally by 2014. Instead, experts say, the main reason for the increase has been a booming China, where wealthier tastes include an increased appetite for meat — and hence for soybeans used as livestock feed.
Almost every U.S. state and congressional district has seen its China exports grow exponentially. Whether it's pecan farmers in Georgia, plastics producers in Virginia, airplane makers in Washington state or scrap-metal dealers in places as diverse as Texas and New York, all have seen a boom in exports to China.
But as impressive as the U.S. export figures look, businesspeople and economists say that the number could be higher and that it would grow even more if China lowered its Great Wall of protectionist barriers.
"The China market should probably be even bigger than it is," said John Frisbie, president of the Washington-based US-China Business Council. "It is absolutely right to make sure Americans understand that China's market is fairly open to U.S. goods and services, but at the same time be clear that there are many market access barriers that make the market less than it should be."
The boom in U.S. exports is not helping erase America's trade deficit with China, which was $295 billion in 2011, $22 billion higher than the year before. But American exports to China have increased by an astounding 468 percent since 2001, when the country joined the World Trade Organization, and are up by nearly 50 percent since 2008.
The top export last year was food, reflecting China's insatiable demand for soybeans, which are used here for livestock and poultry feed — and are cheaper than importing feed grain.
"China imported more soybeans from the U.S. because people's living standard has improved and they need more nutritious food," said Zheng Fengtian, a professor of agriculture and rural development at Renmin University. Importing soybeans "satisfies people's needs for meat, eggs and milk," he said.