China’s oil imports have increased dramatically during the past five
years; the country now imports 3.5 million barrels a day, compared with
U.S. daily imports of 12.2 million barrels. But it’s far less obvious
that Americans are really paying a price for this.
If you’ve been
to the mall lately, you’ve probably noticed that China is making scads
of plastic. As the world’s second-largest plastic producer, it is
furiously turning oil and petrochemicals into everything from lobster
souvenirs to sneaker soles. By embedding oil in products, China is, in
effect, importing oil on behalf of U.S. consumers — as much as 1
million barrels per day.
While China’s demand for energy is
driving up oil prices worldwide, its cheap goods are having the
opposite effect on the cost of living in the United States. A recent
analysis by the U.N. World Economic and Social Survey suggests that
Chinese pressure on oil imports may have raised U.S. inflation by 0.23
percent from 2001 to 2005, but cheap imports of Chinese goods decreased U.S. inflation over that same period by 0.28 percent. For the moment, the net winners are U.S. consumers.
I wouldn’t put too much stock in those exact numbers but the general point still holds. Here is my earlier post on this topic.