10 small countries who are major players in the international trade world


Small countries in the International trade world

International trade helps to grow and support a nation’s economy. Some nations, in fact, take part in so much international trade that the combined value of all of their imports and exports exceeds their entire gross domestic product, or GDP. How is that possible? A country’s trade volume can be higher than 100% of its GDP because imports are subtracted from GDP calculations.  This would be possible if the combined value of a nation’s imports and exports exceeds the nation’s GDP. Such is the case with all of the countries listed below, which have economies that are heavily involved in the international trade world.

While these countries are smaller markets and may therefore be overlooked by many businesses in their market entry strategies, they have incredibly high rates of trade for their size and could make ideal expansion targets. 

For example, if you know that a country’s trade volume is 150-200% of its GDP, and it is importing large amounts of a particular product, that country may be worth expanding into.

For international trade professionals, large volumes of trade can also mean that these countries have a high number of relevant jobs available in that sector, and could be worth including in your next job search.

Here is a list of the top ten countries that have the most trade in terms of percentage of GDP:

10. Republic of the Congo: 166% trade volume

Not to be confused with its larger neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo has seized on political stability and oil exports to become a relative heavyweight in the international trade world.

On top of crude and refined petroleum, which comprise the vast majority of the country’s exports, ships, and refined copper also top the list. Top imports into the country include palm oil, iron, cars, and refined petroleum. China, Italy, Australia, and neighboring Gabon are some of the country’s top trade destinations.

9. Belgium: 167% trade volume

As the home of the European Union headquarters, Belgium is a very important country for international trade. Its high levels of industrialization and excellent marine, rail and road transportation infrastructure are also trading advantages.

The city of Antwerp is considered to be the diamond capital of the world. It is home to 1,500 diamond companies and the world’s two largest diamond banks. As a result, raw diamonds are one of the main imports from this region and finished diamonds are one of the top exports.

Other important exports from Belgium include chemicals, metals, metal products, and foodstuffs. The main imports include foodstuffs, chemicals, machinery, and transportation equipment.

8. Equatorial Guinea: 178% trade volume

Admittedly, Equatorial Guinea faces many serious problems, including an authoritarian government, mass poverty, high levels of inequality, and one of the world’s worst human rights records. However, the country has capitalized on oil to elevate its role in international trade. China, the UK, Brazil, and Spain are currently its top trade partners.

Petroleum gas, acyclic alcohols, crude petroleum, planes, helicopters, and wood are all imports that help to give Equatorial Guinea a high trade volume. Beer, excavation machinery, special purpose ships, and refined petroleum exports also contribute to the nation’s high levels of trade.

7. Vietnam: 179% trade volume

With an impressive economic growth rate, inclusion in 2007 as a member of the WTO, new trade liberalization and agreements, and an expanding manufacturing base, Vietnam is a rising star in the global trade world.

Vietnam’s main exports include crude oil, textiles, fishery products, footwear, and electronics, which are sent to countries all over the world. Some countries that Vietnam exports to include the United States, Japan and China, as well as many European nations. The country also imports large quantities of refined petroleum, steel, machinery, and cloth.

6. Slovak Republic: 185% trade volume

As one of the fastest growing economies in the EU and the world’s largest car producer per capita, the Slovak Republic (often referred to as Slovakia) exports high volumes of cars and vehicle parts, as well as refined petroleum, and video displays.

The nation also imports high volumes of broadcasting equipment, vehicle parts, and crude petroleum. Some of the Slovak Republic’s top trade partners are Germany, Russia, China, and France.

5. Maldives: 201% trade volume

The Maldives is a smaller country, with a population of just under 400,000 people spread across nearly 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean. As a nation of islands, however, its fishery-dominated economy has proven advantageous to exporting. Its main exports are all related to the fishery industry and include frozen fish, fresh fish, and processed fish.

The Maldives imports products such as planes, helicopters, refined petroleum, petroleum gas, and concentrated milk. Some of the country’s top trade partners include Thailand, France, the United States, and nearby India.

4. Ireland: 222% trade volume

Ireland has a number of in-demand exports that help the country bring in billions every year. Among the most prominent of these are medical equipment, organic chemicals, meat, aircraft, cereal preparations, pharmaceuticals, and perfumes. The imports that help contribute to Ireland’s impressive trade volume include vehicles, oil, machinery, plastics, and paper.

As an EU member, most of its exports – 60.2% – go to European nations. However, Ireland also does a significant amount of trade with North America and Asia.

3. Singapore: 326% trade volume

Singapore has placed first in the World Bank’s report of the easiest countries in the world to do business every year since they began the rankings in 2006. This impressive evaluation, as well as its small size and lengthy history as a major trade port, cement Singapore’s high place on this list.

The country also has one of the highest GDPs per capita worldwide, one of the best corruption ratings in the world according to the Corruption Perception Index, and is home to thousands of foreign companies with one of the world’s highest levels of foreign investment.

In 2014, Singapore’s combined imports and exports totaled $624 billion and included refined petroleum, oxygen amino compounds, ethylene polymers, and integrated circuits. Refined and crude petroleum, and integrated circuits made up the majority of the country’s imports.

Singapore’s top trade partners are China, Malaysia, the United States, and Hong Kong. Singapore’s export economy is the 20th largest in the world.

2. Luxembourg: 391% trade volume

Luxembourg, known as the “green heart of Europe,” has become a leading global center for banking and financing. It also has a surprisingly large manufacturing sector, and exports many different goods, including machinery, steel products, foodstuff, and diamonds. Its imports consist largely of fuels, ores, metals, foodstuff, and various consumer goods.

Luxembourg’s top trade partners are Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Luxembourg has a lot of metals and ores, and its industrial production was once dominated by steel. Those products are expected to become increasingly important exports for the country in the future.

1. Hong Kong: 400% trade volume

Hong Kong shares many of the same qualities as several others on this list: small size, high GDP per capita, a leading global financial center, and business-friendly laws.

With little agricultural land and few natural resources, Hong Kong chose to specialize its manufacturing and exports in technology and relies heavily on imports for most goods. Hong Kong’s top exports are computers, telephones, office machine parts, integrated circuits, and other electronic equipment. Its top imports are crude petroleum, gold, cars, and iron ore.

Hong Kong’s top trade partner is China, but several other countries across Asia are also prominent in Hong Kong’s trade strategy, such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Bennett O'Brien

Bennett O'Brien is a freelance writer from the state of Massachusetts in the United States. He holds a bachelor's degree from Westfield State University, and graduated cum laude. Currently he is expanding his freelance writing career, and enjoying the opportunity to write on a variety of business topics.

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