Imports are the lifeblood of a developed economy, they let consumers enjoy a wide range of products that they may otherwise be unable to find. Think about all the conveniences of modern life that usually come from other countries: avocados, French wine, clothing, iPhones—every room in your house probably has multiple imported items. Our new visualization reveals the size and complexity of the entire world’s import economy in one simple map.
Similar to our previous article on exports, we got our figures from the World Trade Organization (go to the Statistics Database to see the original data). The WTO tracks the total value of physical goods each country imports
(note that these numbers exclude services). To create our map we changed the size of the country depending on the value of imports and we added a shade of red for easy reference.
Top Ten Countries with the Most Imports in 2017 ($B)
1. United States of America: $2,409B
2. China: $1,842B
3. Germany: $1,167B
4. Japan: $672B
5. United Kingdom: $644B
6. France: $625B
7. Hong Kong: $590B
8. Netherlands: $574B
9. South Korea: $478B
10. Italy: $453B
There are a lot of similarities between the lists of largest exporting and importing countries. First and most obviously, if you compare the list of the ten most import-dependent countries and the list of the ten most export-dependent countries, you’d have the exact same ten countries. The order is different—China is the most export-heavy country in the world, but the U.S. is the most import-heavy. Otherwise the lists are the same, though, reinforcing how fundamental international trade has become to the global economy. Countries are extremely dependent on each other for mutual growth and prosperity.
The second and related similarity between importing and exporting countries is how unequal the lists are in terms of dollar amounts. The U.S. is in first place by a long shot, importing roughly 25% more than China ($2,409B vs. $1,842B). For its part, China far outpaces third place Germany ($1,167B), which is itself almost twice as big as Japan’s import market ($672B). And the top three import countries have a combined footprint of $5,418B compared to only $4,036B for the rest of the top 10. In fact, the top 10 countries as a group generate more than a trillion dollars of imports, more than the rest of the world combined. This imbalance is what makes our map look so interesting. Africa is practically nonexistent, Australia looks tiny, and South America could fit inside of Germany.
The markets therefore have a lot to worry about when it comes to talk of a trade war. Tariffs and other trade barriers will not only hit the countries directly involved, but they will create ripple effects across the entire global economy. Our map demonstrates that these are multi-trillion dollar, high-stakes issues, so don’t be surprised if they become major concerns during the 2018 elections.