Trade Surplus

What Is a Trade Surplus?

A trade surplus is an economic measure of a positive balance of trade, where a country's exports exceed its imports. A trade surplus occurs when the result of the following calculation is positive: T r a d e B a l a n c e = T o t a l V a l u e o f E x p o r t s T o t a l V a l u e o f I m p o r t s Trade Balance = Total Value of Exports - Total Value of Imports TradeBalance=TotalValueofExportsTotalValueofImports

A trade surplus represents a net inflow of domestic currency from foreign markets. It is the opposite of a trade deficit, which represents a net outflow and occurs when the result of the above calculation is negative. In the United States, trade balances are reported monthly by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Key Takeaways

  • A trade surplus is an economic measure of a positive balance of trade, where a country's exports exceed its imports.
  • It is the opposite of a trade deficit.
  • A trade surplus can create employment and economic growth, but may also lead to higher prices and interest rates within an economy as well as a more expensive currency.
  • In the United States, trade balances are reported monthly by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
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Trade Surplus

Understanding Trade Surplus

A trade surplus can create employment and economic growth, but may also lead to higher prices and interest rates within an economy. A country’s trade balance can also influence the value of its currency in the global markets, as it allows a country to have control of the majority of its currency through trade.

In many cases, a trade surplus helps to strengthen a country’s currency relative to other currencies, affecting currency exchange rates; however, this is dependent on the proportion of goods and services of a country in comparison to other countries, as well as other market factors.

When focusing solely on trade effects, a trade surplus means there is high demand for a country’s goods in the global market, which pushes the price of those goods higher and leads to a direct strengthening of the domestic currency.

A trade surplus implies there is high demand from overseas for a country's goods and services, which tends to push their prices up and contribute to a strengthening of the domestic currency.

Trade Surplus vs. Trade Deficit

The opposite of a trade surplus is a trade deficit. A trade deficit occurs when a country imports more than it exports.

A trade deficit typically also has the opposite effect on currency exchange rates. When imports exceed exports, a country’s currency demand in terms of international trade is lower. Lower demand for currency makes it less valuable in the international markets.

Special Considerations

While in most cases trade balances highly affect currency fluctuations, there are a few factors countries can manage that make trade balances less influential. Countries can manage a portfolio of investments in foreign accounts to control the volatility and movement of the currency. Additionally, countries can also agree on a pegged currency rate that keeps the exchange rate of their currency constant at a fixed rate.

If a currency is not pegged to another currency, its exchange rate is considered floating. Floating exchange rates are highly volatile and subject to daily trading whims within the currency market, which is one of the global financial market’s largest trading arenas.

Is a Trade Surplus Good or Bad?

Generally, selling more than buying is considered a good thing. A trade surplus means the things the country produces are in high demand, which should create lots of jobs and fuel economic growth. However, that doesn't mean the countries with trade deficits are necessarily in a mess. Each economy operates differently and those that historically import more, such as the U.S., often do so for a good reason. Take a look at the countries with the highest trade surpluses and deficits, and you'll soon discover that the world's strongest economies appear across both lists.

Which Countries Have a Trade Surplus?

In 2021, the countries with the highest trade surplus were: China, Germany, Ireland, Russian Federation, and Singapore.

What Increases a Trade Surplus?

A trade surplus rises when a country increasingly sells more to other countries than it buys from other countries. This isn’t always sustainable as growing demand tends to push the value of the currency up, making it more expensive for foreign clients to keep buying.

The Bottom Line

Trade surpluses are generally more popular than trade deficits. Protecting domestic industry has become a big theme of late among politicians and led, in some cases, to a series of trade wars and tariffs.

Global tensions and a rise in nationalism have painted a picture of importers being losers. However, that’s not necessarily the case, especially when everyone is on good terms. Trade between countries and importing things when it makes sense financially can be seen as a positive. In fact, some of the strongest economies in the world are running a trade deficit, implying that trade is not a zero-sum game and that importing more than you export isn’t necessarily bad.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. "International Trade in Goods and Services."

  2. The World Bank. "Net Trade in Goods and Services: All Countries and Economies, Most Recent Value."

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