Trade & Industry Advisory

29 April 2020 • 6 min read

Trade Deficit Explained: Learn and Understand

Editorial Team

Trade deficits can affect a country's growth and threaten it's employment and currency status. What are the Pros and Cons of trade deficit

Trade Deficit – What is this?

A trade deficit, also known as Net Exports, is an economic condition that occurs when the imports is more than the exports in a country. The value of deficit is calculated as the difference in value of goods being imported and the value of goods being exported. This is one way of measuring the International trade of a country and is also known as the Negative Balance of trade.

Depending on the circumstances in the country involved, the duration and size of the deficit and the policy decisions made, trade deficit can confer positives or negatives for the country. In the current scenario, United States has the largest trade deficit by far, with an imbalance of more than $7.3 trillion which has been accumulated in the past decades. The other countries that are facing deficit are Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico and Brazil. In the meantime, there are countries that have surpluses by exporting more than they import such as China, Japan and Russia.

What Causes Trade Deficit?

One of the main reasons why trade deficit occurs is when the country fails to produce everything it needs, has to borrow from other countries and pay for the imports. This is known as Current Account Deficit.

Trade deficit can also be a result of manufacturing happening in foreign states. The raw materials that are required for manufacturing are shipped overseas to factories in other countries which are considered as exports. When the finished products are shipped back to the country, it is considered as imports. The imports are subtracted from the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) even if the earnings support the company’s stock price.

What are the Pros and Cons of Trade Deficit?

Economists react to trade deficits in different ways. While it implies that the country is living beyond its means and accumulating too much debt, there are reasons to say that trade deficit can be more pro-cyclical and is moving in the same direction as its GDP.

Employment Opportunities – When a trade deficit persists in a country over a period of time, it can affect the economic growth and stability. If the imports exceed exports, the domestic jobs will be lost to foreign countries. Even though this makes theoretical sense, it is also said that there will be unemployment at low levels with trade deficit and there can be more unemployment in countries that have surpluses.

Value of Currency – The value of currency of a country is directly impacted by the demand of a country’s exports. When the demand for exports of a country falls compared to imports, the value of currency should ideally decline. In other words, trade deficit indicates whether a country’s currency is desired in the world market.

Foreign Investments – Trade deficit should be offset by a surplus in the capital and financial account. Nations with deficit experience greater degree of foreign direct investments and ownership of government debt. As a conclusion, trade deficits are not always detrimental in the long run as the currency will always come back to the country in some form or another, such as foreign investment.

What is the Bottom Line?

Theories suggest that that having persistent trade deficits can be detrimental for the economy of a country by affecting the growth, employment and currency. However, countries like the US which is one of the biggest deficit nations has proved this theory wrong, time and again. This might also be because, US is the world’s largest economy and dollar is considered as the world reserve currency.

When it comes to developing countries, trade deficit can bring upon a negative impact if it persists for a longer period of time. However, the advocates of free markets suggest that trade deficit corrects itself over a period of time through adjustment of exchange rates. Secondly, when there is competition in the world market, trade deficit is bound to correct itself. Ultimately, the impact of trade deficit will be determined by the consumer preferences.

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