Top 5 American Exports

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When we think of international trade, we often think in terms of what America imports into the country, rather than what it sends out. However, the U.S. is a big player when it comes to exports, providing a variety of goods to countries across the globe. Ever wonder what American goods other countries are clamoring for? To some extent, it depends on who you ask, or how the export categories are classified. The top American exports, however, generally boil down to drugs, cars, chemicals and oil.

5 Pharmaceuticals

The number-five export in the U.S. is drugs. U.S. drug manufacturers produce about half of all pharmaceutical products available internationally. The European Union represents the top destination for these exports, with Germany serving as the leading importer in the area.

4 Plastic and Resin

When domestic demand for plastic and resin dropped in the first decade of the 21st century, savvy companies directed their efforts to emerging foreign markets, such as Mexico, Canada, Belgium and China, which now account for more than half of all plastic and resin exports. As a result, plastic and resin are now America's number-four export.

3 Cars

The number-three U.S. export is cars. With so many foreign car models traveling on American highways each day, it may be hard to imagine other countries importing American models—but they are. American car manufacturers have steadily begun tapping into the international marketplace. Saudi Arabia and China are especially receptive to American goods, arguably because of increased wealth and standard of living in those countries. As a result, automakers have targeted these regions successfully. For example, in 2007, only 1.7 percent of American vehicles were exported to China. As of 2012, this number had increased to a healthy 11.7 percent.

2 Organic Chemicals

Number two on the list is organic chemicals, generating more than one-third of the industry's revenue in 2012. Popular exports include vinyl acetate, aniline, acetic acid and phenol. Organic chemical exports have been on the steady rise in recent years, with Europe serving as the largest market for such goods. A key reason for this is the euro's increased value in comparison to the U.S. dollar, making American products cheaper for European countries to acquire. Belgium represents a large importer of American chemicals, and China has become a key buyer in recent years, too.

1 Refined Petroleum Products

It may come as a surprise that refined petroleum products are the No. 1 American export. In decades past, the U.S. didn't export much at all, but this trend has made a 180-degree turnaround in recent years. Beginning around 2004, the U.S. began exporting petroleum products in increasing amounts, largely because of reduced demand domestically. As of 2012, refined petroleum exports accounted for approximately 15 percent of the industry's revenue, and foreign demand is expected to rise over the next five years, with Brazil, China and Panama leading the pack as key destinations for such products.

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