The physical dimension of international trade: Part 1: Direct global flows between 1962 and 2005

The physical dimension of international trade is attaining increased importance. This article describes a method to calculate complete physical trade flows for all countries which report their trade to the UN. The method is based on the UN Comtrade database and it was used to calculate world-wide physical trade flows for all reporting countries in nine selected years between 1962 and 2005. The results show increasing global trade with global direct material trade flows reaching about 10 billion tonnes in 2005, corresponding to a physical trade volume of about 20 billion tonnes (adding both total imports and total exports). The share from European countries is declining, mainly in favour of Asian countries. The dominant traded commodity in physical units was fossil fuels, mainly oil. Physical trade balances were used to identify the dominant resource suppliers and demanders. Australia was the principal resource supplier over the period with a diverse material export structure. It was followed by mainly oil-exporting countries with varying volumes. As regards to regions, Latin America, south-east Asian islands and central Asia were big resource exporters, mostly with increasing absolute amounts of net exports. The largest net importers were Japan, the United States and single European countries. Emerging countries like the ‘Asian Tigers' with major industrial productive sectors are growing net importers, some of them to an even higher degree than European countries. Altogether, with the major exception of Australia and Canada, industrialized countries are net importers and developing countries and transition countries are net exporters, but there are important differences within these groups.

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