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Mapped: The World’s Biggest Importers in 2018



Mapped: The World's Biggest Importers

Mapped: The World’s Biggest Importers in 2018

If a country’s economy was entirely self-sufficient and independent, it wouldn’t ever need to import goods from elsewhere.

While the prospect of insulating yourself from the turbulence of global markets may sound alluring at first glance, it would come with considerable caveats, risks, and downsides.

Not only would it mean missing out on the world’s best foreign products, but it would likely translate to incredibly expensive goods domestically. Meanwhile, highly specialized products would be unavailable, and unforeseen events (natural disasters, labor strikes, droughts, etc.) would have the potential to disrupt supply chains in ways that lead to economic chaos.

For these reasons — along with many others — most economies opt to import in billions of dollars of goods each year from their international trading partners.

Which Countries Import the Most Goods?

Today’s map comes from, and it resizes countries based on the value of their annual imports in 2018. The visualization is based on data from the World Trade Organization.

Let’s take a look at the 15 countries that are the world’s biggest importers:

Imports (2018, $M)
Share of Global Total
#1🇺🇸 United States$2,614,32713.2%
#2🇨🇳 China$2,135,90510.8%
#3🇩🇪 Germany$1,285,6446.5%
#4🇯🇵 Japan$748,7353.8%
#5🇬🇧 United Kingdom$673,549
#6🇫🇷 France$672,593
#7🇳🇱 Netherlands$646,029
#8🇭🇰 Hong Kong, China$627,517
#9🇰🇷 Korea, Republic of$535,202
#10🇮🇳 India$510,665
#11🇮🇹 Italy$500,795
#12🇲🇽 Mexico$476,569
#13🇨🇦 Canada$469,000
#14🇧🇪 Belgium$450,116
#15🇪🇸 Spain$388,044

In combination, economies around the world import a total of $19.9 trillion in goods each year.

The world’s largest single importer is the United States, with a 13.4% share of global imports equal to $2.6 trillion of goods. Following the U.S. are two other significant economies, each which import over $1 trillion in goods every year: China ($2.1 trillion), and Germany ($1.3 trillion).

Finally, it’s worth noting that if the numbers for the European Union (28) were combined into a single entity, it’d be the world’s biggest importer by far with nearly $6.5 trillion of imports.

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Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt?

Foreign investors hold $7.3 trillion of the national U.S. debt. These holdings declined 6% in 2022 amid a strong U.S. dollar and rising rates.



Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt in 2022?

Today, America owes foreign investors of its national debt $7.3 trillion.

These are in the form of Treasury securities, some of the most liquid assets worldwide. Central banks use them for foreign exchange reserves and private investors flock to them during flights to safety thanks to their perceived low default risk.

Beyond these reasons, foreign investors may buy Treasuries as a store of value. They are often used as collateral during certain international trade transactions, or countries can use them to help manage exchange rate policy. For example, countries may buy Treasuries to protect their currency’s exchange rate from speculation.

In the above graphic, we show the foreign holders of the U.S. national debt using data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Top Foreign Holders of U.S. Debt

With $1.1 trillion in Treasury holdings, Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.

Japan surpassed China as the top holder in 2019 as China shed over $250 billion, or 30% of its holdings in four years.

This bond offloading by China is the one way the country can manage the yuan’s exchange rate. This is because if it sells dollars, it can buy the yuan when the currency falls. At the same time, China doesn’t solely use the dollar to manage its currency—it now uses a basket of currencies.

Here are the countries that hold the most U.S. debt:

RankCountryU.S. Treasury HoldingsShare of Total
1🇯🇵 Japan$1,076B14.7%
2🇨🇳 China$867B11.9%
3🇬🇧 United Kingdom$655B8.9%
4🇧🇪 Belgium$354B4.8%
5🇱🇺 Luxembourg$329B4.5%
6🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$284B3.9%
7🇨🇭 Switzerland$270B3.7%
8🇮🇪 Ireland$255B3.5%
9🇹🇼 Taiwan$226B3.1%
10🇮🇳 India$224B3.1%
11🇭🇰 Hong Kong$221B3.0%
12🇧🇷 Brazil$217B3.0%
13🇨🇦 Canada$215B2.9%
14🇫🇷 France$189B2.6%
15🇸🇬 Singapore$179B2.4%
16🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$120B1.6%
17🇰🇷 South Korea$103B1.4%
18🇩🇪 Germany$101B1.4%
19🇳🇴 Norway$92B1.3%
20🇧🇲 Bermuda$82B1.1%
21🇳🇱 Netherlands$67B0.9%
22🇲🇽 Mexico$59B0.8%
23🇦🇪 UAE$59B0.8%
24🇦🇺 Australia$57B0.8%
25🇰🇼 Kuwait$49B0.7%
26🇵🇭 Philippines$48B0.7%
27🇮🇱 Israel$48B0.7%
28🇧🇸 Bahamas$46B0.6%
29🇹🇭 Thailand$46B0.6%
30🇸🇪 Sweden$42B0.6%
31🇮🇶 Iraq$41B0.6%
32🇨🇴 Colombia$40B0.5%
33🇮🇹 Italy$39B0.5%
34🇵🇱 Poland$38B0.5%
35🇪🇸 Spain$37B0.5%
36🇻🇳 Vietnam$37B0.5%
37🇨🇱 Chile$34B0.5%
38🇵🇪 Peru$32B0.4%
All Other$439B6.0%

As the above table shows, the United Kingdom is the third highest holder, at over $655 billion in Treasuries. Across Europe, 13 countries are notable holders of these securities, the highest in any region, followed by Asia-Pacific at 11 different holders.

A handful of small nations own a surprising amount of U.S. debt. With a population of 70,000, the Cayman Islands own a towering amount of Treasury bonds to the tune of $284 billion. There are more hedge funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands per capita than any other nation worldwide.

In fact, the four smallest nations in the visualization above—Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Bahamas, and Luxembourg—have a combined population of just 1.2 million people, but own a staggering $741 billion in Treasuries.

Interest Rates and Treasury Market Dynamics

Over 2022, foreign demand for Treasuries sank 6% as higher interest rates and a strong U.S. dollar made owning these bonds less profitable.

This is because rising interest rates on U.S. debt makes the present value of their future income payments lower. Meanwhile, their prices also fall.

As the chart below shows, this drop in demand is a sharp reversal from 2018-2020, when demand jumped as interest rates hovered at historic lows. A similar trend took place in the decade after the 2008-09 financial crisis when U.S. debt holdings effectively tripled from $2 to $6 trillion.

Foreign Holdings of U.S. Debt

Driving this trend was China’s rapid purchase of Treasuries, which ballooned from $100 billion in 2002 to a peak of $1.3 trillion in 2013. As the country’s exports and output expanded, it sold yuan and bought dollars to help alleviate exchange rate pressure on its currency.

Fast-forward to today, and global interest-rate uncertainty—which in turn can impact national currency valuations and therefore demand for Treasuries—continues to be a factor impacting the future direction of foreign U.S. debt holdings.

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