International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and services across international borders or territories. In most countries, such trade represents a significant share of gross domestic product (GDP).
Trading globally gives consumers and countries the opportunity to be exposed to new markets and products. Almost every kind of product can be found in 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.
Industrialization, advanced technology, including transportation, globalization, multinational corporations, and outsourcing are all having a major impact on the international trade system. Increasing international trade is crucial to the continuance of globalization. Nations would be limited to the goods and services produced within their own borders without international trade. International trade is, in principle, not different from domestic trade as the motivation and the behavior of parties involved in a trade do not change fundamentally regardless of whether trade is across a border or not. The main difference is that international trade is typically more costly than domestic trade. This is due to the fact that a border typically imposes additional costs such as tariffs, time costs due to border delays, and costs associated with country differences such as language, the legal system, or culture.
Another difference between domestic and international trade is that factors of production such as capital and labor are typically more mobile within a country than across countries. Thus, international trade is mostly restricted to trade in goods and services, and only to a lesser extent to trade in capital, labour, or other factors of production. Trade in goods and services can serve as a substitute for trade in factors of production. Instead of importing a factor of production, a country can import goods that make intensive use of that factor of production and thus embody it. An example of this is the import of labor-intensive goods by the United States from China. Instead of importing Chinese labor, the United States imports goods that were produced with Chinese labor. One report in 2010 suggested that international trade was increased when a country hosted a network of immigrants, but the trade effect was weakened when the immigrants became assimilated into their new country.
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.
Free trade is a free market policy followed by some international markets in which countries’ governments do not restrict imports from, or exports to, other countries. In government, free trade is predominately advocated by political parties that hold right-wing economic positions, while economically left-wing political parties generally support protectionism.
Most nations are today members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) multilateral trade agreements. Free trade is additionally exemplified by the European Economic Area and the Mercosur, which have established open markets. However, most governments still impose some protectionist policies that are intended to support local employment, such as applying tariffs to imports or subsidies to exports. Governments may also restrict free trade to limit exports of natural resources. Other barriers that may hinder trade include import quotas, taxes, and non-tariff barriers, such as regulatory legislation.
There is a broad consensus among economists that protectionism has a negative effect on economic growth and economic welfare, while free trade and the reduction of trade barriers to trade has a positive effect on economic growth. However, liberalization of trade can cause significant and unequally distributed losses, and the economic dislocation of workers in import-competing sectors.
Features of Free Trade
– Trade of goods without taxes (including tariffs) or other trade barriers (e.g., quotas on imports or subsidies for producers);
– Trade in services without taxes or other trade barriers;
– The absence of trade-distorting policies (such as taxes, subsidies, regulations, or laws) that give some firms, households, or factors of production an advantage over others;
– Unregulated access to markets;
– Unregulated access to market information;
– Inability of firms to distort markets through government-imposed monopoly or oligopoly power; and
– Trade agreements which encourage free trade.
According to mainstream economic theory, the selective application of free trade agreements to some countries and tariffs on others can lead to economic inefficiency through the process of trade diversion. It is economically efficient for a good to be produced by the country which is the lowest cost producer, but this does not always take place if a high cost producer has a free trade agreement while the low cost producer faces a high tariff. Applying free trade to the high cost producer (and not the low cost producer as well) can lead to trade diversion and a net economic loss. This is why many economists place such high importance on negotiations for global tariff reductions, such as the Doha Round.
International trade allows us to expand our markets for both goods and services that otherwise may not have been available to us. It is the reason why you 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.
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