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:
Imports (2018, $M), Share of Global Total
#1 United States $2,614,327 13.2%
#2 China $2,135,905 10.8%
#3 Germany $1,285,644 6.5%
#4 Japan $748,735 3.8%
#5 United Kingdom $673,549 3.4%
#6 France $672,593 3.4%
#7 Netherlands $646,029 3.3%
#8 Hong Kong China $627,517 3.2%
#9 Korea $535,202 2.7%
#10 India $510,665 2.6%
#11 Italy $500,795 2.5%
#12 Mexico $476,569 2.4%
#13 Canada $469,000 2.4%
#14 Belgium $450,116 2.3%
#15 Spain $388,044 2.0%
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.
Image: Visual Capitalist
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