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 HowMuch.net, 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:
|Rank||Country||Imports (2018, $M)||Share of Global Total|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||$2,614,327||13.2%|
|#5||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$673,549||3.4%|
|#8||🇭🇰 Hong Kong, China||$627,517||3.2%|
|#9||🇰🇷 Korea, Republic of||$535,202||2.7%|
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.
Ranked: The World’s 50 Top Countries by GDP, by Sector Breakdown
This graphic shows GDP by country, broken down into three main sectors: services, industry, and agriculture.
Visualized: The Three Pillars of GDP, by Country
Over the last several decades, the service sector has fueled the economic activity of the world’s largest countries. Driving this trend has been changes in consumption, the easing of trade barriers, and rapid advancements in tech.
We can see this in the gross domestic product (GDP) breakdown of each country, which gets divided into three broad sectors: services, industry, and agriculture.
The above graphic from Pranav Gavali shows GDP by country, and how each sector contributes to an economy’s output, with data from the World Bank.
Drivers of GDP, by Country
As the most important and fastest growing component of GDP, services make up almost 60% of GDP in the world’s 50 largest countries. Following this is the industrial sector which includes the production of raw goods.
Below, we show how each sector contributes to GDP by country as of 2021:
|🇰🇷 South Korea||57.0||32.4||1.8||8.8||$1.8|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||46.5||44.7||2.7||6.1||$0.8|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||89.7||6.0||0.1||4.3||$0.4|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||63.0||24.5||2.5||10.0||$0.4|
Industrial sector includes construction. Agriculture sector includes forestry and fishing. *Data as of 2019.
In the U.S., services make up nearly 78% of GDP. Apart from Hong Kong, it comprises the highest share of GDP across the world’s largest economies. Roughly 80% of American jobs in the private sector are in services, spanning from healthcare and entertainment to finance and logistics.
Like America, a growing share of China’s GDP is from services, contributing to almost 54% of total economic output, up from 44% in 2010. This can be attributed to rising incomes and higher productivity in the sector as the economy has grown and matured, among other factors.
In a departure from the top 10 biggest countries globally, agriculture continues to drive a large portion of India’s GDP. India is the world’s second largest producer of wheat and rice, with agriculture accounting for 44% of the country’s employment.
While the services sector has grown in India, it makes up a greater share in other emerging economies such as Brazil (58%), Mexico (59%), and the Philippines (61%).
Services-led growth has risen faster than manufacturing across many developing nations, underpinned by productivity growth.
This structural shift is seen across economies. In many countries in Africa, for instance, jobs have increasingly moved from agriculture to services and trade, where it now accounts for 42% of jobs.
These growth patterns are supported by rising incomes in developing economies, while innovation in tech is lowering barriers to enabling service growth. As the industrial sector makes up a lower share of trade and economic activity, the service sector is projected to make up 77% of global GDP by 2035.
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