World trade is a major – and growing – driver of the global economy. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), trade accounted for 30 percent of total global economic output in 2014, up from 20 percent in 1995. As the world has become increasingly globalized, trade has grown dramatically as a share of total global output.
All told, countries exported approximately $23.9 trillion in goods and services to each other in 2014. This includes $4.89 trillion in services exports and roughly $19 trillion in exports of goods.
Which Countries Trade the Most?
Not surprisingly, the world’s largest economies are also the countries that are the biggest players in global trade, at least in absolute terms.
In 2014, according to the WTO, China was the world’s largest exporter of goods – as well as the world’s largest importer. The United States, meanwhile, was far and away the world leader in the export of services. The United States, China and Germany dominated in both sectors – the three countries together accounted for nearly 30 percent of global goods exports in 2014 and 26 percent of exports in services.
As a share of GDP, however, trade does not dominate the economies of either the United States or China. In 2014, according to the OECD, the value of trade by the United States (exports and imports together) was equal to 31 percent of GDP and 45.1 percent of GDP in China. This is largely due to the fact that the consumer markets in both countries are so large. But in smaller, high-growth countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and even Estonia, trade is the dominant driver of the economy. In Singapore, for example, the value of goods trade alone in 2014, according to the World Bank, was equal to 253 percent of GDP.
What About Trade in the Developing World?
Given the importance of trade to the economic growth of developing economies, the share of global trade by developing nations has grown dramatically. The WTO reports that between 1995 and 2014, the share of global trade by developing economies more than doubled, from 20 percent to 44 percent. Much of this growth was in Asia, which in 2014 accounted for 27 percent of all trade by developing countries.
- World Trade Organization, International Trade Statistics 2015
- U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis: International Trade and Investment Country Facts
- World Bank, Data Catalog
Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.