Trade structure by partner

Map 1. Main world import flows, 2020
(Billions of United States dollars)
Notes: Countries with one bilateral import higher than US$125 billion are shown in the default selection.

Main global trade patterns

The world’s largest bilateral flows of merchandise trade run between China and the United States of America, and between their respective neighbouring economies. In 2020, goods worth US$457 billion were imported by the United States from China. Goods worth US$136 billion also travelled in the opposite direction. China’s trade – exports and imports – with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), Japan, Taiwan, Province of China, and the Republic of Korea totalled US$1.15 trillion. The United States’ trade with Mexico and Canada was worth about the same amount (US$1.07 trillion).

Intra-regional trade was most pronounced in Europe. In 2020, 68 per cent of all European exports were to trading partners on the same continent. In Asia, this rate was 58 per cent. By contrast, in Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Northern America, most trade was extra-regional.

Figure 1. Intra- and extra-regional exports, 2020
(Percentage of total exports)

Trade within and between ‘hemispheres’

Figure 2. Global trade flows, 2020
Note: North refers to developed economies, South to developing economies; trade is measured from the export side; deliveries to ship stores and bunkers as well as minor and special-category exports with unspecified destination are not included.
In 2020, goods worth US$6.6 trillion were exchanged between developed economies (North-North trade), whereas merchandise trade among developing economies (South-South trade) amounted to US$4.6 trillion. Exports from developed to developing economies and vice-versa (North-South, and South-North trade) totaled US$6.1 trillion. Thus, for developed economies, trade with developing economies was almost as important as trade with developed economies.

With whom do developing economies mainly trade?

In 2020, developing economies shipped most of their exports to the United States of America (US$1.4 trillion), followed by China (US$1.1 trillion) and other Asian economies. They also sourced most of their imports from those economies.

Exports from American developing economies were more oriented towards the Americas, especially to the United States of America (US$415 billion). For African developing economies, main export markets were in Asia and Europe, with China (US$52.9 billion) and India (US$23.0 billion) as main destinations.

Figure 3. Developing economies’ main export destinations, 2020
(Billions of United States dollars)

Concepts and definitions

Intra-trade is the trade between economies belonging to the same group. Extra-trade is the trade of economies of the same group with all economies outside the group. It represents the difference between a group’s total trade and intra-trade.

In theory, the exports from an economy A to an economy B, should equal the imports of economy B from economy A recorded FOB. In practice, however, the values of both flows are often different. The reasons for these trade asymmetries include: different times of recording, different treatment of transit trade, underreporting, measurement errors and mis-pricing or mis-invoicing.

The exports to (imports from) all economies of the world do not always exactly add up to total exports (imports). The difference is caused by ship stores, bunkers and other exports of minor importance.

Summary tables

Table 1. Exports by origin and destination, 2020
(Billions of United States dollars)
Note: Percentage of exports to the whole world in parentheses.

    Table 2. Exports by origin and destination, selected years
    (Billions of United States dollars)
    Table 3. Top destinations of developing economies’ exports
    Table 4. Top origins of developing economies’ imports