Moreover, the impact of higher dollar prices for Chinese goods might well be to raise the U.S. import bill. In particular, U.S. spending on Chinese goods would rise unless higher prices induced a proportionately larger decline in import volumes. For example, if a 10 percent rise in the price of Chinese products resulted in only a 7 percent decline in the volume purchased, spending would rise by roughly 3 percent. Significantly, empirical studies have been as likely to find that higher prices raise U.S. import spending as lower it. Regardless of the direction of the spending impact, these offsetting price and volume effects imply that the impact of a Chinese currency appreciation on U.S. import spending would be small.
Finally, the impact of a stronger renminbi on U.S. imports would be limited by the fact that most goods purchased from China come from industries in which U.S. producers no longer have a substantial presence. Indeed, out of more than 400 detailed production categories, 60 categories account for some 80 percent of U.S. purchases from China. The same 60 categories account for less than 15 percent of U.S. manufacturing shipments. With little U.S. capacity at the ready, higher Chinese import prices might be more likely to spur increased imports from Korea or Vietnam than increased U.S. production. If so, a smaller U.S. trade deficit with China would be offset by larger deficits with other countries.
The last point is key, I think. I'm not as concerned about the short-run elasticities as the long-run structural issues.