The Exports and Trade Balance Picture for the United States for 1998 & 1999 With a Focus on International Travel Exports
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Trade Balance Analysis

International travel is a major category of private services, and it alone accounted for 37 percent of all service exports in 1999. International travel has become a more significant export in our economy, especially when ranked with other major categories in the service sector area. International travel has moved up in rank by 10 percentage points since the early 1960's, displacing other service sector categories.

Overall, international travel has had consistent annual export growth since 1965 with three exceptions. International travel ranked as the fourth largest export market for 1999 behind "capital goods", "industrial goods", and "other private services". It is the second largest export services market, trailing other "private services" by only 3 percentage points in 1999. As service exports continue to increase and continue to generate trade surplus figures for the country, their importance to the overall health of the economy will become increasingly important to maintain economic growth and prosperity for the United States.

Currently international travel had a trade surplus of $14 billion in 1999. The international travel sector is a strong net exporter. International travel has maintained a trade surplus since 1989. Private services is also a net exporter maintaining a surplus balance since 1971, whereas the merchandise sector has been a net importer since 1976. The merchandise trade deficit has been increasing since 1992, setting a record deficit in 1999.

Currently the U.S. balance on trade in goods had a deficit of $347 billion, up 41 percent compared to the previous year. This deficit was counteracted by the surplus of $80 billion produced by the balance on trade of services, which lowered the combined balances on trade in goods and services to $267 billion for 1999. Three of the top five merchandise categories, were attributed to the sharp increase in the 1999 trade deficit: "industrial", "consumer" and "automotive goods". In contrast, only one of the top four service export categories had a deficit in 1999: "other transportation".

Although merchandise exports increased slightly by 2 percent totaling $683 billion, imports increased by 12 percent in 1999, compared to the previous year. Private service exports increased by 6 percent, totaling $259 billion. Despite the stronger 9 percent growth for imports, export dollars were still higher, so private services continued to maintain a surplus trade balance. Private service exports have grown 20 fold in the last 30 years and are becoming more important as a net exporter in the U.S. economy, comprising 28 percent of total exports in 1999.

The 2 percent increase in merchandise exports for 1999 was primarily the result of the increase in "capital goods" which includes telecommunications equipment and computers. The 12 percent increase in merchandise imports is due to increases in imports of "capital", "consumer", "industry", and "automotive" goods, up 10 percent ($297 billion), 11 percent ($240 billion); 11 percent ($224 billion), and 20 percent ($180 billion), compared to the previous year respectively.

In 1999, private services exports increased due to international travel and "other private services". "Other private services" includes a conglomerate of different services including affiliated services, education, financial services, insurance and others. International travel exports increased by 5 percent totaling $96 billion in 1999 compared to 1998. "Other private services" increased by 8 percent over the previous year, totaling $99 billion in 1999.


Tourism Industries is pleased to announce the preliminary 1999 export and import figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) April 1999 issue of the Survey of Current Business. BEA tracks all export and import figures for the country. The trade figures are broken out into two major categories for exports and imports: merchandise or goods and private services.

When Tourism Industries reports the international travel export figure it is actually the combination of Travel and Passenger Fares as reported by BEA. International travel to the United States is an export for the country. Technically, it is considered a service export just like freight, insurance, telecommunications, royalties, and education. To most people, exports mean sending and selling U.S. goods abroad, like automobiles or computers. It is different with travel and tourism exports. When any international traveler visits America and spends money on lodging, food, beverages, activities, transportation, clothing, gifts and souvenirs or anything else in the country during their visit, these expenditures are counted as exports.

Tourism Industries supplies the international travel and passenger fare spending figures as well as the arrivals and departures estimates to BEA so they can develop these estimates. BEA uses the TI data and supplements it with other data sources to develop the estimates of international travel and passenger fare exports and imports for the country. TI has developed two different tables entitled: 1999(pr) Top Exports, and 1999(pr) Trade Balance. These two tables show the top export categories for merchandise and private services, and the trade balances for merchandise and private services.