The Difference between Level of Trade and the Trade Balance

Key Concepts and Summary

There is a difference between the level of a country’s trade and the balance of trade. The government measures its level of trade by the percentage of exports out of GDP, or the size of the economy. Small economies that have nearby trading partners and a history of international trade will tend to have higher levels of trade. Larger economies with few nearby trading partners and a limited history of international trade will tend to have lower levels of trade. The level of trade is different from the trade balance. The level of trade depends on a country’s history of trade, its geography, and the size of its economy. A country’s balance of trade is the dollar difference between its exports and imports.

Trade deficits and trade surpluses are not necessarily good or bad—it depends on the circumstances. Even if a country is borrowing, if it invests that money in productivity-boosting investments it can lead to an improvement in long-term economic growth.