Trade balance of developing and developed countries continues to converge, UNCTAD statistics show

Developing economies ran a combined merchandise and services trade surplus for 2013 of $177.6 billion, the UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2014 reveals, representing a fall of 40 per cent as measured in current prices compared with 2012 and 63 per cent compared with the peak in 2007. Transition economies also ran a trade surplus in 2013 of $128.6 billion. This represented a fall compared with the previous year (21 per cent) and with the peak in 2011 (33 per cent). Developed economies ran a trade deficit of $65.3 billion in 2013, down from almost $400 billion the previous year; a reduction of 84 per cent (current prices).

This overall convergence is being driven by a convergence in merchandise trade. However, trade balances for services of developing and developed countries continue to diverge. As trade in services is becoming more important, it suggests that the overall convergence may not continue indefinitely.

Trade balances varied significantly at the regional level. The overall trade surplus for developing countries was driven by Asia, which operated a surplus of $403.8 billion in 2013. In contrast, developing countries in Africa and the Americas ran aggregate trade deficits of $100.4 billion and $114.8 billion, respectively. Developed countries in Europe ran an overall trade surplus of $630 billion, whereas developed countries in the Americas and Asia ran deficits of $566.4 billion and $130.1 billion, respectively.

The direction of trade balances also varied markedly between merchandise and services trade. In 2013 there was a continuation of patterns seen in previous years in which developing and transition countries ran a trade surplus for merchandise trade ($451.9 billion and $187.2 billion, respectively), while developed countries ran a deficit of $619.2 billion. For trade in services, the opposite was true: developing and transition countries ran trade deficits ($274.3 billion and $58.6 billion, respectively), while developed countries operated a surplus of $553.9 billion. Separating merchandise and trade in services also illustrates that the convergence in overall trade balances between developing and developed countries evident in recent years is being driven by merchandise trade. The opposite is true for services, where the trade imbalance continues to grow.


The UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2014 also shows that total world exports in 2013 were valued at $23.6 trillion (up almost 3 per cent from 2012), of which merchandise trade accounted for 80 per cent ($18.8 trillion).

Along with providing detailed statistics on international merchandise and services trade, the 2014 edition also provides investment, commodity prices, maritime transport and other economic and social data, for all individual economies for which data are available. In addition, it includes figures for geographical regions, various economic groupings and world totals. The Handbook aims each year to provide data for the analysis and evaluation of world trade, investment, international financial flows and development. To the extent possible, UNCTAD provides estimates to fill in data gaps in order to furnish the most complete data sets.

The Handbook is available in printed form and on DVD. In addition, the data underlying the findings of the Handbook are available online at UNCTADStat, a continuously updated statistical database. 

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