Half a century ago, trade accounted for only a quarter of global economic output; today that figure is roughly 60%. As dramatic as that may sound, the most significant shifts arguably have happened over the past five years. In 2008, China became the world’s largest exporter, and it is quickly gaining ground on the U.S. as the world’s largest importer. The realignment of global trade is well underway, and it will have a significant impact on how companies do business.
This map highlights some of the biggest trade shifts of the past decade. The countries shown here experienced the greatest swings in their trading relationships between 2002 and 2012. (Canada’s shifts don’t rank among the most dramatic, but we’ve included them for reference.) Arrows are colour-coded by country—blue arrows, for instance, represent Canadian exports and imports that have seen significant change—and are scaled proportionately; fatter arrows reflect greater volumes of trade. Figures on the arrows quantify the changing relationships, from the perspective of the country identified by the colour of the arrow: South Africa, for instance, shipped 11% of its exports to the United States in 2012, compared to 26% in 2002.
The biggest trend overall? North America’s declining status as a choice trade partner—and China’s rise.