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The Fourth of July, made in China

How Chinese manufacturers profit off fireworks, grills, and flag sales.

a hand holds a sparkler next to a small American flag

The Fourth of July is an economic boom of a holiday — for China.

Ever since the first commemoration of Independence Day, Americans have celebrated with bombs bursting in air. But what started in 1777 with the firing of 13 rockets into the sky in Philadelphia has evolved into a tradition celebrated across the continent with grander and more expensive spectacles. No one benefits more from that than Chinese manufacturers.

The American Pyrotechnics Association reported in 2013 that 93 percent of fireworks used in the United States are made in China. It’s not surprising, then, that the US runs a substantial trade deficit with China with regards to fireworks. A Census Bureau report published on Friday suggests Americans imported more than $300 million worth of fireworks last year (96 percent of which came from China), while exports totaled only about $10 million.

Chinese companies clean up on your cookout, too. The Fourth of July is the most popular day of the year for Americans to cook outdoors, and a 2015 Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association survey showed that there’s still high consumer interest in purchasing new outdoor grills each year. The LA Times estimated in 2016 that the outdoor grill industry consistently rakes in more than a billion dollars in sales each year in the United States. But last year, IBISWorld reported that imports now make up the majority of outdoor grill sales in the United States, and Consumer Reports suggests that most are, in fact, made in China. Even Weber-Stephen, one of the oldest American grill companies, has moved production for a 2017 model of one of its popular lines of outdoor grills to China.

Even new American flags — in a small way — benefit Chinese manufacturers. April, May, and June are the busiest months for flag sales, which makes sense since Memorial Day and Independence Day are the most popular times to fly the Stars and Stripes. But while today the United States is a net exporter of the flag (a positive change from three years ago), America still imports $5.4 million worth of its own banner, with the vast majority of these imported flags ($5.3 million) coming from China.

While “Made in the USA” makes for a popular slogan, American consumers have repeatedly proven that what matters most is getting a good price. That often means buying from China. Even Donald Trump, who preached “Buy American” on the campaign trail, in his inauguration speech, in his February address to Congress, and in a recent, mostly symbolic executive order, found it difficult to buy all American for his first White House congressional picnic a couple of weeks ago.

Food for that picnic was grilled over imported coals — not from China, but from Mexico.