- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
It’s hard to understand the jargon-laden and math-saturated world of international trade. But a new interactive map helps visualize global imports and exports, showing just how massive global trade really is.
Each dot, color-coded by type of trade like agriculture, minerals, plastics, and transportation, represents $1 billion. As the graphic shows, there are a lot of dots — 15,600, in fact, to represent the $15.6 trillion of international trade in 2015 (the latest year from which U.N. data is available) according to the U.N. Comtrade database that tracks the world’s economic statistics.
Take a gander at the interactive version here. Or simply watch the video here:
Data guru Max Galka, a former derivatives trader, made the interactive using the U.N.’s Comtrade data to help non-Wall Streeters grasp the currents and flows of the world’s economy — particularly in a year when trade has become a hot-button political topic.
“Trade has never dominated a presidential debate in the way it has this year,” Galka told Foreign Policy, referring to President-elect Donald Trump’s high-profile campaign stumps on trade.
Galka said the visualization helps unpack the hard data from the politics, particularly on issues like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which became a big political punching bag for the president-elect. The map is another way to view how United States trades with Canada and Mexico under NAFTA, and shows how vital those trade relationships are for all three countries, Galka said. For 30 of the 50 U.S. states, Canada or Mexico rank as their first or second largest export market, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.
The visualization also shows how concentrated trade is in three countries in particular: the United States, Germany, and China.
There may be fewer data dots flying across the globe in 2017, however. The World Trade Organization announced in September that world trade growth in 2016 slowed to the lowest pace since the 2008 financial crisis — 1.7 percent, which is well below the forecast 2.8 percent for the year. The WTO downgraded its estimated world trade growth for 2017 to between 1.8 and 3.1 percent, a sluggish start to the new year.
Photo credit: Max Galka / Metrocosm Blueshift