Since taking office, Donald Trump has taken a strong line against free trade. He signed an executive order to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a trade deal between 12 countries the around the Pacific Rim), and his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, floated the idea of a 20% tax on imports from Mexico.
Trump has consistently suggested that trade agreements hurt US workers by making it easier for companies to ship jobs overseas and import cheap products from other countries.
However, economists have pointed out that countries faced with higher taxes on their imports to the US might decide not to accept as many US exports, or to reciprocate by imposing higher fees on local goods. And that could disproportionately impact American communities that rely on exports.
A new analysis published January 30 by the Brookings Institution examines the US’ export economy, looking specifically at the areas of the country that would be most exposed to changes in trade policy. Unsurprisingly, the data shows that large cities do the highest overall volume of exports — New York, LA, Houston, Chicago, Dallas and Seattle together account for more than 25% of national exports.
But the places that are most economically dependent on exports are actually all located in counties that voted for Trump. Joseph Parilla and Mark Muro, the authors of the Brookings article, analysed the “export intensity” of different areas — the places where exports makes up the highest share of GDP. They found that that smaller metro areas that are oriented toward manufacturing and energy production have the highest dependence on exports. Columbus, Indiana tops that list, with slightly over half of its economy driven by exports. It’s followed by Beaumont, Texas (40%); Lake Charles, Louisiana (36.9%); Elkhart, Indiana (34.5%); and Kokomo, Indiana (34.1%).
Those cities could be economically impacted by the consequences of Trump’s trade restrictions, but all five are located in counties that voted for him. In fact, only one of the ten counties that contain the country’s most export-dependent cities voted against Trump: East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana.
“The data underscores that no clean political divide separates trade-oriented counties from others,” the report says.
That fact is highlighted by an analysis of export volumes on a national level. The report finds that 58% of exports in 2015 came from counties that voted for Hillary Clinton, with exports making up an average of 10% of the economic output in those places. Counties that went for Trump represented 42% of US exports in 2015, with exports accounting for an average of 13% of output in those places — which means Trump counties are generally more economically dependent on exports.
“Because Trump counties are on average more export-intensive than Clinton counties, they will be especially exposed to the ramifications of changes in current trade patterns,” the report predicts.
It remains to be seen whether and to what extent Trump will renegotiate US trade deals or impose new border taxes. But depending on how he follows through on those campaign promises, Trump runs the risk of hurting quite a few counties that helped elect him.
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