July 4, 2020

The World’s Leading Export Markets in 2020


In 2019, the global export market was valued at a staggering $18.74 trillion — almost 14% of the world’s total economic output.

As globalisation continues to shape our daily lives, the world’s appetite for consumerism and imported goods from overseas serves as the beating heart for some of the wealthiest nations. Here at INAA, we’re interested in getting to grips with the key players in the global export market and keeping tabs on emerging nations that are set to dominate over the next decade.

Join us as we take a deep dive into the four largest exporters on the planet and discuss the impact of globalisation on import and export markets.

What Is an Export Market?

Before we dig any deeper, it’s important to establish a clear idea of what we mean when we talk about export markets.

In short, an export market is a country or group of countries from which goods and services are sold to receiving nations. Whether you’re buying a bottle of Scotch from an airport gift shop or filling your car with fuel, export markets play a pivotal role in modern consumerism.

Export markets are typically split into five defining categories:

1/ Consumer Goods. From cosmetics to computers, consumer goods are imported directly into a country to be bought and used by end consumers.

2/ Capital Goods. Capital goods are imported by manufacturers and used to produce consumer goods.

3/ Industrial Goods. Raw materials, machinery and manufacturing equipment are all considered industrial goods.

4/ Automotive. The global motor vehicle market is predicted to generate annual revenue of almost $9 trillion by 2030.

5/ Foods, Feeds & Beverages. Our globalised world and the spread of international cultures means food can travel thousands of miles before reaching our plates.

Export markets are almost exclusively discussed in reference to either a trade surplus or a trade deficit. The ratio between total imports and total exports will determine a country’s ‘balance of trade’.

Which Countries Have Leading Export Markets?

While the global export market has enjoyed 13.4% growth over the last five years, the vast proportion of the growth is owing to the prosperous economies of just a handful of nations. Almost 30% of the global trade market is generated by four leading nations: China, the US, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Let’s take a closer look at the key drivers behind each nation and assess their role in the context of the world economy.

China: The World’s Largest Export Market

In 2009, China knocked Germany off the top spot to claim the title of the world’s largest exporting nation.

While the rest of the world was recovering from an economic downturn, China’s dominant stake in automatic data processing manufacturing, the clothing industry, mobile phone production, and integrated circuit board fabrication catapulted its export economy to new heights.

Not only is China the world’s largest exporter, but it is also the largest trading nation in terms of its net balance of trade. The so-called 'Sleeping Giant' has shaken the global economy — reporting a staggering trade surplus of over $422 billion in 2019 alone.

While China is still under communist rule, its taste for exports is more reminiscent of a capitalist economy with total exports accounting for over 17% of the country’s GDP.

United States

Did you know that the US exported $22 billion worth of soybeans in 2017 alone?

Despite Trump’s administration sparking an ongoing debate around trade tariffs and complex US-China relations, the US exported $2.5 trillion in goods and services last year — accounting for 8.5% of the country’s total economic output.

Specifically, the US export market is dominated by two leading industries:

  • Capital goods (aircraft, machinery, and semiconductors)
  • Food production (soybean, meat, and corn)

That said, American consumerism results in a net balance of trade where total imports exceed total exports. In 2016, Trump controversially introduced import tariffs from China in an attempt to rebalance the country’s trade deficit and promote ‘home-grown’ spending. The ruling was met with China’s introduction of a 25% tariff on $16 billion worth of US imports.

While the US remains a dominant export market, political tensions continue to cast a shadow of uncertainty over the future of its global trade relations.


In 2018, Germany’s comparatively small population of 83 million exported $1.5 trillion worth of goods and achieved an impressive positive trade balance of $305 billion.

Germany has a broad range of highly-technical exports across the following sectors:

Automotive. Germany’s reputation as a premium motor vehicle manufacturer drives annual car exports of $156 billion and over $68 billion in specialised vehicle parts.

Pharmaceutical. From antibiotics to insulin, Germany’s steeped history in the pharmaceutical sector drives a packaged medicament export market of almost $60 billion.

Aerospace. German engineering produces some of the best spacecraft, aeroplanes and helicopters in the world. They export over $30 billion worth of aerospace technology every year.

Blood, antisera, vaccines, toxins and cultures. Did you know that blood, antisera, vaccines, toxins and cultures is the twelfth most traded commodity on the planet? While it might not be an obvious choice, Germany exports almost $30 billion of the stuff every year.

Germany is a highly industrialised nation with a diverse portfolio of exports that cements its dominance in global conversations around trade. As the strongest European economy, Germany serves as a linchpin for international trade agreements and a gateway for smaller European economies.

The Netherlands

Chief Research Analyst and Founder of World's Top Exports, Daniel Workman, describes the Netherlands as “a small but mighty player in international trade”. Despite its relatively small population of 17.28 million, the Netherlands exported a grand total of $709 billion in 2019 alone.

With a vast proportion of its exports going to Germany, Belgium, France, and the UK, only 25% of the value of its annual exports ventures beyond European soil.

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