Mexico has just overtaken China as the top exporter to the U.S. — or maybe it’s held that distinction all year

No matter which report is used, trade data show the U.S. now imports more goods and services from Mexico than China.

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Bloomberg is running a story saying Mexico has just eclipsed China as the largest exporter to the U.S. The rival news service is relying on a complicated formula, using the 12-month rolling average of the share of U.S. imports.

But, really, the U.S.’s southern neighbor has held the title for all of 2023. Here at MarketWatch, we like simpler calculations. Drawing on a quarterly series measuring trade on a balance-of-payments basis, Mexico took the lead in the third quarter of 2022.

The two series are not wildly different from one another. The data Bloomberg uses are more timely, based on documents collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The balance-of-payments data, meanwhile, are adjusted to be consistent with gross-domestic-product calculations, and the data are produced quarterly as opposed to monthly. A few differences: BOP data count as imports the purchases of goods abroad by the U.S. military or the fuel purchases made in foreign ports by U.S. air and ocean carriers; there are a few subtractions, as well.

The narrative is basically the same whichever report is used. The U.S.-China trade relationship is deteriorating, and Mexico has been a beneficiary as companies look to countries with friendlier governments.

There’s a financial element to this narrative, too. One of the hottest currency pairs this year has been the Mexican peso vs. the Japanese yen MXNJPY, -0.30%, which has surged 28% this year. The dollar, meanwhile, has climbed 5% vs. the offshore Chinese yuan USDCNH, -0.04%.

From the archives (May 2023): Foreign businesses in China fear they’re being targeted in a ‘campaign’ of government crackdowns. It’s probably not that simple.