Economics » International Trade and Capital Flows » Measuring Trade Balances

Measuring Trade Balances

A few decades ago, it was common to track the solid or physical items that were transported by planes, trains, and trucks between countries as a way of measuring the balance of trade. This measurement is called the merchandise trade balance. In most high-income economies, including the United States, goods make up less than half of a country’s total production, while services compose more than half.

The last two decades have seen a surge in international trade in services, powered by technological advances in telecommunications and computers that have made it possible to export or import customer services, finance, law, advertising, management consulting, software, construction engineering, and product design.

Most global trade still takes the form of goods rather than services, and the merchandise trade balance is still announced by the government and reported prominently in the newspapers. Old habits are hard to break. Economists, however, typically rely on broader measures such as the balance of trade or the current account balance which includes other international flows of income and foreign aid.


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