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U.S. Services Providers Remain Competitive in the Global Services Market, Reports USITC

June 8, 2017
News Release 17-086
Inv. No. 332-345
Contact: Peg O'Laughlin, 202-205-1819
U.S. Services Providers Remain Competitive in the Global Services Market, Reports USITC

The United States is the world's largest services market and was the world’s leading exporter and importer of services in 2015, reports the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in its new publication Recent Trends in U.S. Services Trade, 2017 Annual Report.

The USITC, an independent, nonpartisan, factfinding federal agency, compiles the report annually. Each year's report presents a qualitative and quantitative overview of U.S. trade in services and highlights some of the services sectors and geographic markets that contribute substantially to recent services trade performance.

This year’s report focuses on professional services and includes chapters on four specific industries: accounting and auditing services, architecture and engineering services, legal services, and management consulting services. Each chapter analyzes global market conditions in the industry, examines recent trade performance, and summarizes the industry’s outlook.

The report describes in detail trade in services via cross-border transactions through 2015 and via affiliate sales through 2014 (latest available data).  Preliminary data for 2016 indicate that U.S. services exports exceeded those in 2015 by 0.3 percent, or $2.0 billion, whereas U.S. imports were 3.2 percent higher ($14.8 billion) in 2016 than in 2015.

Highlights of the 2017 report include:

  • In 2015, the value of U.S. commercial services exports was $730.6 billion (15 percent of global services exports), while imports totaled $467.1 billion (10 percent of global services imports). Preliminary data also indicate that in 2016, U.S. services exports increased slightly to $732.6 billion, while imports rose to $482.0 billion.
  • From 2014 to 2015, U.S. cross-border services exports rose by 1 percent (compared to 7 percent in 2013–2014), while U.S. services imports grew just over 2 percent (down from  almost 5 percent the previous year). Within the services sector, sales by foreign affiliates of U.S. firms – the leading channel by which many U.S. services are delivered to foreign markets – totaled $1,503.4 billion while the value of services purchased from foreign-owned affiliates in the United States totaled $918.7 billion.
  • The U.S. had a surplus of $48.7 in international trade in professional services as in 2015 the subsector accounted for 19 percent of both imports and exports. Professional services accounted for about 8 percent of total sales by foreign affiliates of U.S. firms and 10 percent of total purchases from foreign-owned firms located in the United States.
  • The contribution of private sector professional services to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) was $2.6 trillion in 2015, accounting for 19 percent of U.S. private sector GDP.  The output of these services grew by 3.6 percent in 2015, faster than the output of private sector services as a whole (2.9 percent). Among professional services industries, the healthcare and social assistance sector was not only the largest -- accounting for 8 percent of total private sector GDP -- but also registered the fastest growth (4.5 percent) during 2015. During the same year, education services recorded the slowest growth (0.2 percent).
  • Professional services accounted for 25.8 percent of total private sector employment in the United States, or nearly 29 million full-time equivalent (FTE) employees – a share that has remained stable since at least 2010. Employment in healthcare and social assistance represented more than half (58.4 percent) of this total, followed by miscellaneous professional, scientific, and technical services (18.5 percent), and education services (10.8 percent). Labor productivity in professional services grew by 0.9 percent, though this represents an improvement over the 2010-2014 period when labor productivity remained essentially unchanged (-0.3 percent). Workers in the professional services industry earned an average wage of $65,861 in 2015, which exceeded the private sector average, but trailed all other services categories except distribution services. The business models of professional services firms are evolving in response to changes in technology. Software is increasingly able to perform some routine tasks like tax preparation or legal research, but the Internet also enables some services to be delivered digitally across borders and enhances the ability of small firms to compete in sectors like consulting. Professional services firms are also adapting to changing economic conditions by finding new markets, such as legal services in China, and niches within industries, such as green building in architecture services, as well as providing services which blur the lines between industries, for example when large accounting firms increasingly provide consulting services. Licensing, certification, or other registration requirements continue to pose challenges to professional services firms, particularly where such requirements are opaque, though the effects vary by market.
  • The USITC hosted its 10th annual services roundtable on November 17, 2016. The discussion, summarized in the report, focused on the usefulness of the “modes of supply” framework, originated in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and on the importance of initiatives to harmonize regulations and to liberalize services trade.

Recent Trends in U.S. Services Trade, 2017 Annual Report (Investigation No. 332-345, USITC publication 4682, September 2017) is available on the USITC's Internet site at http://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/pub4682.pdf.

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