World trade in goods and services - an overview

Data extracted in May-June 2017

Planned update: November 2019

Highlights

In 2015, international trade in goods and services represented 17 % of the EU’s GDP.

The EU’s share of world exports of goods and services was 18 % in 2016.

Value of international trade in goods and services, selected countries, 2016
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (bop_eu6_q) and International Monetary Fund (Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Statistics)


Globalisation patterns in EU trade and investment is an online Eurostat publication presenting a summary of recent European Union (EU) statistics on economic aspects of globalisation, focusing on patterns of EU trade and investment.

Within the context of globalisation, stronger links between some of the world’s most rapidly growing economies — in the form of increased levels of trade and cooperation — can provide a stimulus to help ensure continued economic development.

Most economists tend to agree that ‘open’ economies grow at a faster pace than closed ones, as international trade has the potential to promote economic growth through increasing external demand for goods and services, while at the same time providing consumers with greater choice (and often lower prices), fostering efficiency and productivity gains and supporting innovation. Enterprises and households are more likely to consume goods and services from an international partner if such transactions are free from tariffs and other trade barriers, thereby allowing goods and services to cross borders in a frictionless and efficient manner.

At a practical level, this means the European Union’s (EU’s) international trade policy has been designed around promoting reciprocal market opening and trade liberalisation, creating new opportunities for increased levels of trade (for both goods and services), investment, innovation and productivity growth.

Statistics on international trade in goods and services

The main methodological reference used for the production of statistics on international trade in goods and services is the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual (BPM6).

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World exports of goods and services

World exports of goods and services reached nearly EUR 15 trillion in 2016

In 2016, the global value of exports of goods and services was EUR 14.6 trillion (or EUR 14 600 billion). Figure 1 shows that the highest levels of trade in goods and services were recorded, unsurprisingly, in some of the biggest economies, as the EU-28 exported more goods and services (EUR 2.6 trillion) than any individual country, while the highest level of imports was recorded by the United States (EUR 2.5 trillion).

The largest trade surplus for international trade in goods and services — as measured by the difference between exports and imports — was recorded in the EU-28 (EUR 304 billion in 2016), followed by China (EUR 226 billion). By contrast, the largest deficit was registered in the United States (EUR 456 billion), followed at some distance by India (EUR 38 billion).

Figure 1: Value of international trade in goods and services, selected countries, 2016
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (bop_eu6_q) and International Monetary Fund (Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Statistics)

International trade in goods and services

In 2015, international trade in goods and services represented 17.0 % of the EU-28’s GDP

The information presented in Figure 2 shows that the importance of international trade in goods and services between some of the world’s largest trading countries was quite different when measured in relation to economic output (gross domestic product (GDP)). The ratio presented in Figure 2 is based on the average value of exports and imports relative to GDP and provides a means for analysing the ‘depth’ of globalisation or the ‘openness’ of individual economies.

Increased trade liberalisation from the 1990s onwards provided a stimulus for international trade in goods and services. Within the EU-28, the ratio of international trade in goods and services relative to GDP rose from 12.6 % in 2005 to 17.0 % by 2015, thereby confirming that trade in goods and services was growing at a faster pace than the overall EU-28 economy. This relative shift may, at least in part, be attributed to the growing importance of trade in intermediate goods, which itself was driven by higher levels of international outsourcing as global production chains were established.

Ratio of trade in goods and services relative to GDP

… while much higher ratios for trade to GDP were recorded in some Asian economies

Two relatively small Asian economies reported the highest degrees of exposure to international trade, as the average value of exports and imports for goods and services (relative to GDP) in Hong Kong represented 194.8 % of its GDP in 2015, while the corresponding ratio for Singapore was 167.3 %. These figures could be contrasted with much lower ratios for some of the world’s largest economies — China (19.5 %), the EU-28 (17.0 %) and the United States (13.9 %).

The ratio of trade in goods and services relative to GDP rose in most of the world’s leading economies between 2005 and 2015 and this was particularly the case in Hong Kong, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey. The only exceptions were China (where the domestic economy grew at a faster pace than the value of international trade, even though China captured a growing share of world trade), Singapore, Russia and Canada.

Figure 2: International trade in goods and services relative to GDP, selected countries, 2005 and 2015
(%, relative to GDP)
Source: Eurostat (bop_eu6_q) and (nama_10_gdp), International Monetary Fund (Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Statistics) and United Nations Statistics Division (National Accounts Main Aggregates Database)

The EU-28’s share of international trade in goods and services

The EU-28’s share of world exports of goods and services was 17.9 % in 2016

On average, every day the EU-28 exports millions of euros worth of goods and services to the rest of the world, while it imports millions more. While the value of the EU’s international trade in goods and services with the rest of the world has expanded at a relatively fast pace compared with the value of trade between EU Member States (intra-EU trade), this has not prevented a gradual reduction in the EU’s share of global trade since 2010.

In 2016, some 17.9 % of world exports for goods and services originated from the EU-28; as such, its share of world exports was relatively unchanged when compared with a decade before (18.4 %). By contrast, there was a more marked reduction in the share of the EU-28 in world imports for goods and services, as its share of the global trade fell to 16.2 % in 2016, a reduction of 3.7 percentage points when compared with a decade earlier.

The most striking feature concerning developments for international trade in goods and services between 2006 and 2016 was the continued progression of China as one of the world’s leading trading nations. China’s share of the world exports for goods and services rose from 9.0 % to 13.6 % during the period 2006-2016, while its share of imports grew at an even faster pace, increasing by 4.9 percentage points to reach 12.0 % in 2016 (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: World trade for goods and services, selected countries, 2006-2016
(% of total)
Source: Eurostat (bop_eu6_q) and International Monetary Fund (Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Statistics)

Trade flows for international trade in goods and services

In 2016, goods accounted for more than three quarters of world exports of goods and services

Figure 4 presents information on the relative importance of trade flows for both international trade in goods and international trade in services (more detailed information on these two types of products are provided in the subsequent articles). In 2016, goods accounted for just over three quarters (76.6 %) of the world’s total trade, their share of exports peaking at 93.9 % in Mexico and 90.5 % in China. By contrast, the relative weight of services in total exports was far more pronounced in the EU-28 (31.3 % of the total) and the United States (34.1 %), rising to a high of 37.6 % in India.

The EU-28 had a relatively balanced structure to its trade, insofar as it ran a trade surplus for both goods and services in 2016; this was in contrast to the situation prior to the global financial and economic crisis, when the EU-28 ran a deficit for its trade in goods. However, there were quite often considerable differences in the balance of trade between goods and services in other economies. For example, China had a particularly large trade surplus for goods (but a deficit for services), while the Brazilian, Russian and South Korean economies were also relatively specialised in exporting goods and were more reliant on importing services. By contrast, the United States imported considerably more goods than it exported, while the Indian and Turkish economies were relatively specialised in exporting services (business and information services for the former and tourism for the latter).

Figure 4: Share of international trade in goods and services, selected countries, 2016
(%)
Source: Eurostat (bop_eu6_q) and International Monetary Fund (Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Statistics)
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Balance of payments - International transactions (BPM6)
International trade in goods - long-term indicators


Balance of payments - International transactions (BPM6)
International trade in goods - long-term indicators
International trade in services, geographical breakdown (BPM6)