There’s a lot of talk these days about jobs, the economy, and international trade, with a keen interest in trade between the United States and China. As there should be. So it’s an excellent time to review basic facts about what U.S. trade with China means for the L.A. region and our nation’s economy as a whole.

Let’s start with the U.S. economy. China is our nation’s largest trading partner, with $599 billion in two-way trade in 2015. More than 34 percent of these goods – imports and exports – move through the Los Angeles Customs District, led by the ports of Los Angeles and Long and Los Angeles International Airport.

The Los Angeles Customs District is the No. 1 customs district in the United States. The value of all international trade that moves through the district alone exceeds $473 billion. That’s nearly 13 percent of the total value of all U.S. trade.

Not surprisingly, China sends and receives more goods through the L.A. district than any other U.S. customs district, and this has been the case since the 1990s. Based on activity for 2015, the value of imports and exports moving between the U.S. and China through the L.A. region exceeded $206 billion – almost 44 percent of the total trade that moves through our top-ranked customs district.

This sum, $206 billion, is more than the combined value of trade from the next nine of the top 10 trading partners doing business through the L.A. district: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Germany, Hong Kong, India, and Australia.

U.S. exports to China as well as imports have exploded over the last 20 years. From 1995 to 2015, trade through the San Pedro Bay ports between China and the U.S. skyrocketed to 6 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) from 694,445 – a nearly 900 percent increase over that period. While imports to the United States from China historically have surpassed U.S. exports to China, our exports to China have increased by a factor of 10 – a faster rate than the rise in imports and a trend that bodes well for closing the trade deficit in future years.

Mutual benefit

Without a doubt, this activity has spawned economic growth in China. But there’s no question it also has fueled our economy right here at home.

The San Pedro Bay ports support more than 177,000 jobs in the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Widen that zone to a five-county area – Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, and Riverside – and the number jumps to 954,000 jobs. Nationwide, more than 2.8 million jobs are related to trade moving through the San Pedro Bay ports.

Jobs on the docks with good pay and benefits represent just a fraction of those numbers. International trade supports good jobs in multiple sectors, including construction, transportation, warehousing, logistics, wholesale, retail, agriculture, real estate, finance, insurance, entertainment, and law.

The San Pedro Bay ports are the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest container port, and the Port of Long Beach, which ranks No. 2. Together, our two ports are the 10th-busiest container port complex in the world. This powerful economic engine is also driving job growth in technology and construction – sectors with some of the fastest job growth in California alone, according to state labor market projections.

These numbers only begin to tell the success stories that bilateral trade through the L.A. area has fostered in both the United States and China. There are many exciting chapters, including those we are writing today as partners advancing innovation and sustainable business practices to clean the air we breathe, make the best use of valuable energy resources, create jobs, and improve the quality of life at home and around the globe.

Gene Seroka is executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

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