Trade ‘imbalances’ are misleading

Alexandro Jara, the Deputy Director-General of WTO

“[R]elying on conventional trade statistics gives a distorted picture of trade imbalances between countries. As we saw when looking at the Chinese content of the iPad, what counts is not the imbalances as measured by gross values of exports and imports, but how much valued added is embedded in these flows.

The WTO estimate, based on IDE-Jetro data, estimates that 80 per cent of the value of the goods exported by the US had a domestic content. The comparable figure was 77 per cent in the case of Japan, 56 per cent for Korea. It was about 50 per cent for Malaysia and Chinese Taipei, meaning that half the value exported by these countries originated from other countries.

Using conventional trade statistics would overestimate the US bilateral deficit vis-à-vis China by around 30 per cent as compared to measuring in value added content based on input-out matrices. The official figures for the bilateral deficit would be cut by 50 per cent when the activity of export processing zones in China and Hong Kong, China, re-exports are fully taken into account. By the same token, measured in domestic value added content, the bilateral deficit of the US with Korea or Japan, the main providers of electronic parts in our iPad example, would increase in proportion to the reduction of the US — China deficit. ” Extract from Address to the World Input Output Database conference, May 2010 [emphasis added]

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