Share of international trade in GDP

In today’s increasingly globalised world, exports and imports are key aggregates in the analysis of a country’s economic situation. Whenever an economy slows down or accelerates, all other economies are potentially affected through trade linkages.


Exports of goods and services consist of sales, barter or gifts or grants, of goods and services (included in the production boundary of GDP) from residents to non-residents. Equally, imports reflect the same transactions from non-residents to residents.

Not all goods need to physically enter a country’s border to be recorded as an export or import. Transportation equipment, goods produced by residents in international waters sold directly to non-residents, and food consumed in ships or planes are but a few examples of transactions which may be recorded as exports or imports without physically crossing borders.

Equally not all goods that enter a country’s borders are necessarily imports or exports. Transportation equipment, goods sent abroad for minor processing (or which enter and leave a country in their original state and ownership) are examples of goods that cross borders but are not recorded as imports or exports.


Goods (merchandise trade) reflect the bulk of import and exports, and these are generally well covered and afford good comparability across countries; although discrepancies between total imports and exports of traded goods at the global level reveal that measurement in practice is not trivial. Growth in trade through the Internet has increased measurement difficulties.

The comparability of trade in services is more affected by practical measurement issues however; even if the conceptual approach, as it is for goods, is the same for all OECD countries.

Increases in outsourcing, merchanting, processing services and transactions in intellectual property, such as software and artistic originals, have increased the difficulties inherent in the measurement of trade in services.


International trade measured as the ratio of exports and imports to GDP increased for almost all OECD countries in 2010 and 2011, following sharp declines during the financial crisis. For 2010 and 2011, exports and imports as a share of GDP increased by more than 2 percentage points for the OECD total. The GDP ratio for imports fell in 15 countries in 2012 and fell even further in 2013 and 2014 for many OECD countries reflecting a weak demand for imported products as many economies slowed. However, the GDP ratio for exports also fell in 2012-14 but fewer countries saw declines as compared to the drops in the import share.

Looking at the balance of exports and imports in 2014, Luxembourg shows the largest surplus at 32.4% of GDP. Other countries showing a surplus greater than 10% are Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland, whereas Norway, Slovenia, Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Denmark and Korea have trade surpluses of more than 5% of GDP. On the other hand Turkey, Japan, the United States and Greece have deficits of more than 2% of GDP.


Further information

Analytical publications

Statistical publications

Methodological publications


Table. International trade in goods and services

International imports and exports in goods and services
As percentage of GDP, 2014 or latest available year