World trade – who are the top three?

On 11 February, Bloomberg reported that China had overtaken the US in global trade. One of our readers has now drawn our attention to additional information on this subject.

This was the news story that appeared on 11 February:

“China overtakes US in global trade

China has surpassed the US as the world’s biggest trading nation, Bloomberg reports, pulling together some intriguing trade stats from both countries.

US imports and exports of goods last year totalled $3820 billion, the US commerce department said last week. Meanwhile Bloomberg says that China’s customs administration reported last month that the country’s trade in goods in 2012 amounted to $3870 billion.”

For those unfamiliar with US terminology, we should explain that a billion is 1000 million.

One of our readers has now provided additional information on this story. He writes:

“The total figures are the combination of exports and imports. For exports, the CIA web site of the US Government provides a detailed breakdown by country: CIA world fact book

Using estimated information for 2012, the US is the world’s third largest exporter with a total value of $1612 billion. The value of imports, the difference between $3820 billion and $1612 billion, is $2208 billion. The difference between imports and exports is $596 billion in favour of imports, meaning a trade deficit in goods.

China is the world’s second largest exporter with total value of $2021 billion. The difference between $3870 billion and $2021 billion is $1849 billion. The difference between imports and exports is $172 billion in favour of exports, meaning a trade surplus in goods.

The European Union is the world’s largest exporter with $2170 billion in exports.

The next thing to do is to break down the exports into products. This site breaks down what was exported from the US and to whom:

China purchased the most from the US at 7% of total, with the rest under 4%. I didn’t find a comparable site breaking down imports, but it would be interesting to see of that which is exported, how much of it is metric and of what is imported how much is metric.”

The table on the CIA web site shows the value of exports of EU countries individually as well as in total. If the total is excluded, then Germany is third in the table, France fifth and the UK eleventh, after Canada and just above Hong Kong.

The UK’s industrial decline, from “workshop of the world” to eleventh in the league table of exports in less than a century, has been almost as swift as Germany’s rise. The reasons for this have been the subject of much debate. They include our half-hearted response, as symbolised by our road signs, to the rapid spread of the metric system throughout the world in the twentieth century. If thirty years later the US is following in our footsteps, then it may be easier one day to reach some conclusions.

4 thoughts on “World trade – who are the top three?”

  1. A programme on BBC4 last night discussed Google’s attempt to scan millions of books to create a global library, without asking the copyright holders first. Altruism or piracy, that was the question. There was comment from authors and librarians from only, in descending order of duration, the US (second in the table of exports), Germany (3rd), France (5th), Japan (4th) and China (top). And Britain’s contribution to the content of the programme? A photo of H G Wells and quotes from his book, “A mind at the end of its tether”.


  2. Another take on this subject, from Professor Chang in the Guardian:
    He believes that Britain’s economic problems arise from our “eroding ability to engage in high-productivity activities”. He doesn’t mention the M word, or the handicap that having two measurement systems imposes on productivity – it can not help that neither system is well understood by much of the working population. Comments number 1638 (and rising). I wonder if any mention the contribution of the measure muddle to Britain’s problems with productivity.


  3. Lord Heseltine has had 81 of his 89 recommendations for spurring economic growth in the UK accepted by the government, with 5 rejected and 3 under consideration:

    I wonder if Lord Heseltine included a recommendation to end the metric muddle in the UK and finish the job of metrication. Something tells me he didn’t, however (although he certainly should have). Of course, even if he had, I’ll wager the government would have boosted the number of recommendations they rejected from 5 to 6. 😦


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: