WASHINGTON—After holding the distinction of being the U.S.'s largest trading partner in the field of new tires for the better part of the past decade, China slid to No. 5 last year as the value of its imports plunged nearly 50 percent.
Thailand, No. 5 on the list as recently as five years ago, is ensconced firmly on the top rung of the importers' ranking, with shipments valued at $2.79 billion, up 25 percent over 2018 and nearly twice that of No. 2 Canada.
Thailand solidified its claim to the No. 1 spots in terms of passenger and light truck tires, with double-digit growth in both categories. It also took over the top slot in the truck/bus tire category, where the effect of elevated import duties on commercial tires from China ate into that country's numbers.
Thailand, along with two other countries and Taiwan, now is facing an import dumping inquiry from the U.S. International Trade Commission, at the behest of the United Steelworkers union.
Overall, the value of tires imported into the U.S. last year grew 1.1 percent to $14.8 billion, while the value of exports fell slightly, to $4.99 billion, pushing the nation's trade deficit in tires up 2.6 percent to $9.85 billion, according to Tire Business' analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce data.
In the passenger tire category, the 37.3 million units imported from Thailand represent 24 percent of the 154.5 million units imported overall, and are more than twice the number (17.2 million) imported from South Korea, No. 2 on the list.
The declared customs value of imported passenger tires last year was $51.27, down 10 cents per tire from the 2018 value.
Among the 10 largest countries on the list, values ranged from $24.89 for Vietnam to $63.41 for Mexico.
In light truck tires, Thailand solidified its No. 1 spot over Canada with 15.5 percent higher shipments of 7.67 million units for the year. Canada's exports to the U.S. fell 15.8 percent to 3.52 million units.
Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia rounded out the top five with imports of 2.28 million, 2.13 million and 2.05 million units, respectively.
Overall, imports of light truck tires climbed 6.2 percent to 26.7 million units, the Commerce Department data showed.
The average declared customs value of an imported light truck tire improved 4.6 percent to $75.67. Average prices among the 10 largest importing nations ranged from $55.95 (Vietnam) to $95.04 (Japan).
Based on the strength of an 89.1 percent surge in exports of truck/bus tires from Thailand, coupled with a 65.4 percent drop in shipments from China, Thailand surged to the top spot in that U.S. import category as well, according to the Commerce Department data.
Thai companies shipped 4.63 million truck tires to the U.S. last year, or roughly 31 percent of the 14.8 million tires imported overall. That figure is down 13.3 percent from 2018, the data showed, primarily because of nearly 6 million fewer units from China, which held onto the No. 2 spot with imports of 3.19 million units.
Canada, Japan and Vietnam rounded out the top five.
The average value of an imported truck/bus tire last year was $170.03, up 9.4 percent over 2018, reflecting the drop in traditionally lower-priced units from China. Average prices ranged from $113.57 for China to $258.42 for Canada.
Among its major tire sector trading partners, the U.S. held a surplus last year with two nations—Mexico and Canada, at $522.9 million and $101.1 million, respectively.
These two nations represented 65 percent of the U.S. tire industry's exports by value, the data showed.
Mexico took in $1.57 billion worth of tires from the U.S. last year and exported $1.05 billion to the U.S., narrowing the surplus by nearly $200 million from 2018.
Canada was the No. 1 export destination in 2019 for U.S.-made tires at $1.68 billion, a slight drop from 2018. Imports from Canada were valued at $1.58 billion, resulting in a much smaller surplus than in 2018.
The next largest export destination was Australia, which took in $354 million worth of products from the U.S.