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What Is Trade?

Trade is a basic economic concept involving the buying and selling of goods and services, with compensation paid by a buyer to a seller, or the exchange of goods or services between parties. Trade can take place within an economy between producers and consumers. International trade allows countries to expand markets for both goods and services that otherwise may not have been available. It is the reason why an American consumer can pick between a Japanese, German, or American car. As a result of international trade, the market contains greater competition and therefore, more competitive prices, which brings a cheaper product home to the consumer.

In financial markets, trading refers to the buying and selling of securities, such as the purchase of stock on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Trade broadly refers to the exchange of goods and services, most often in return for money.
  • Trade may take place within a country, or between trading nations. For international trade, the theory of comparative advantage predicts that trade is beneficial to all parties, although critics argue that in reality, it leads to stratification among countries.
  • Economists advocate for free trade between nations, but protectionism such as tariffs may present themselves due to political motives, for instance with “trade wars.”

How Trade Works

Trade broadly refers to transactions ranging in complexity from the exchange of baseball cards between collectors to multinational policies setting protocols for imports and exports between countries. Regardless of the complexity of the transaction, trading is facilitated through three primary types of exchanges.

Trading globally between nations allows consumers and countries to be exposed to goods and services not available in their own countries. Almost every kind of product can be found on the international market: food, clothes, spare parts, oil, jewelry, wine, stocks, currencies, and water. Services are also traded: tourism, banking, consulting, and transportation. A product that is sold to the global market is an export, and a product that is bought from the global market is an import. Imports and exports are accounted for in a country’s current account in the balance of payments.

International trade not only results in increased efficiency but also allows countries to participate in a global economy, encouraging the opportunity of foreign direct investment (FDI), which is the amount of money that individuals invest into foreign companies and other assets. In theory, economies can, therefore, grow more efficiently and can more easily become competitive economic participants. For the receiving government, FDI is a means by which foreign currency and expertise can enter the country. These raise employment levels, and, theoretically, lead to a growth in the gross domestic product. For the investor, FDI offers company expansion and growth, which means higher revenues.

trade deficit is a situation where a country spends more on aggregate imports from abroad than it earns from its aggregate exports. A trade deficit represents an outflow of domestic currency to foreign markets. This may also be referred to as a negative balance of trade (BOT).

Comparative Advantage: Increased Efficiency of Trading Globally

Global trade, in theory, allows wealthy countries to use their resources—whether labor, technology, or capital—more efficiently. Because countries are endowed with different assets and natural resources (land, labor, capital, and technology), some countries may produce the same good more efficiently and therefore sell it more cheaply than other countries. If a country cannot efficiently produce an item, it can obtain the item by trading with another country that can. This is known as specialization in international trade.