Balance Of Trade Surplus And Deficit On A Country’s Economy

It is in no doubt that balance of buy limit which is sometimes symbolized as (NX) is described as the Difference between the monetary value of export and import of output in an economy over a certain period. It could also been seen as the relationship between the nation’s import and exports. When the balance has a positive indication, it is termed a trade surplus, i.e. if it consists of exporting more than is imported and a trade deficit or a trade gap if the reverse is the case. The Balance of trade is sometimes divided into a goods and a service balance. It encompasses the activity of exports and imports. It is expected that a country who does more of exports than imports stands a big chance of enjoying a balance of trade surplus in its economy more than its counterpart who does the opposite.

Economists and Government bureaus attempt to track trade deficits and surpluses by recording as many transactions with foreign entities as possible. Economists and Statisticians collect receipts from custom offices and routinely total imports, exports and financial transactions. The full accounting is called the ‘Balance of Payments’- this is used to calculate the balance of trade which almost always result in a trade surplus or deficit.

Pre-Contemporary understanding of the functioning of the balance of trade informed the economic policies of early modern Europe that are grouped under the heading ‘mercantilism’.

Mercantilism is the economic doctrine in which government control of foreign trade is of paramount importance for ensuring the prosperity and military security of the state. In particular, it demands a positive balance of trade. Its main purpose was to increase a nation’s wealth by imposing government regulation concerning all of the nation’s commercial interest. It was believed that national strength could be maximized by limiting imports via tariffs and maximizing export. It encouraged more exports and discouraged imports so as to gain trade balance advantage that would eventually culminate into trade surplus for the nation. In fact, this has been the common practice of the western world in which they were able to gain trade superiority over their colonies and third world countries such as Australia, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and other countries in Africa and some parts of the world. This is still the main reason why they still enjoy a lot of trade surplus benefit with these countries up till date. This has been made constantly predominant due to the lack of technical-know how and capacity to produce sufficient and durable up to standard goods by these countries, a situation where they solely rely on foreign goods to run their economy and most times, their moribund industries are seen relying on foreign import to survive.

What is Trade Surplus?

Trade Surplus can be defined as an Economic measure of a positive balance of trade where a country’s export exceeds its imports. A trade surplus represents a net inflow of domestic currency from foreign markets and is the opposite of a trade deficit, which would represent a net outflow.

Investopedia further explained the concept of trade surplus as when a nation has a trade surplus; it has control over the majority of its currency. This causes a reduction of risk for another nation selling this currency, which causes a drop in its value, when the currency loses value, it makes it more expensive to purchase imports, causing an even a greater imbalance.

A Trade surplus usually creates a situation where the surplus only grows (due to the rise in the value of the nation’s currency making imports cheaper). There are many arguments against Milton Freidman’s belief that trade imbalance will correct themselves naturally.

What is Trade Deficit?

Trade Deficit can be seen as an economic measure of negative balance of trade in which a country’s imports exceeds its export. It is simply the excess of imports over exports. As usual in Economics, there are several different views of trade deficit, depending on who you talk to. They could be perceived as either good or bad or both immaterial depending on the situation. However, few economists argue that trade deficits are always good.

Economists who consider trade deficit to be bad believes that a nation that consistently runs a current account deficit is borrowing from abroad or selling off capital assets -long term assets-to finance current purchases of goods and services. They believe that continual borrowing is not a viable long term strategy, and that selling long term assets to finance current consumption undermines future production.

Economists who consider trade deficit good associates them with positive economic development, specifically, higher levels of income, consumer confidence, and investment. They argue that trade deficit enables the United States to import capital to finance investment in productive capacity. Far from hurting employment as may be earlier perceived. They also hold the view that trade deficit financed by foreign investment in the United States help to boost U.S employment.

Some Economists view the concept of trade deficit as a mere expression of consumer preferences and as immaterial. These economists typically equate economic well being with rising consumption. If consumers want imported food, clothing and cars, why shouldn’t they buy them? That ranging of Choices is seen as them as symptoms of a successful and dynamic economy.

Perhaps the best and most suitable view about Trade deficit is the balanced view. If a trade deficit represents borrowing to finance current consumption rather than long term investment, or results from inflationary pressure, or erodes U.S employment, then it’s bad. If a trade deficit fosters borrowing to finance long term investment or reflects rising incomes, confidence and investment-and doesn’t hurt employment-then it’s good. If trade deficit merely expresses consumer preference rather than these phenomena, then it should be treated as immaterial.

How does a Trade surplus and Deficit Arise?

A trade surplus arises when countries sell more goods than they import. Conversely, trade deficits arise when countries import more than they export. The value of goods and services imported more exported is recorded on the country’s version of a ledger known as the ‘current account’. A positive account balance means the nation carries a surplus. According to the Central Intelligence Agency Work fact book, China, Germany, Japan, Russia, And Iran are net Creditors Nations. Examples of countries with a deficit or ‘net debtor’ nations are United States, Spain, the United Kingdom and India.

Difference between Trade Surplus and Trade Deficit

A country is said to have trade surplus when it exports more than it imports. Conversely, a country has a trade deficit when it imports more than it exports. A country can have an overall trade deficit or surplus. Or simply have with a specific country. Either Situation presents problems at high levels over long periods of time, but a surplus is generally a positive development, while a deficit is seen as negative. Economists recognize that trade imbalances of either sort are common and necessary in international trade.

Competitive Advantage of Trade Surplus and Trade Deficit

From the 16th and 18th Century, Western European Countries believed that the only way to engage in trade were through the exporting of as many goods and services as possible. Using this method, Countries always carried a surplus and maintained large pile of gold. Under this system called the ‘Mercantilism’, the concise encyclopedia of Economics explains that nations had a competitive advantage by having enough money in the event a war broke out so as to be able to Self-sustain its citizenry. The interconnected Economies of the 21st century due to the rise of Globalization means Countries have new priorities and trade concerns than war. Both Surpluses and deficits have their advantages.

Trade Surplus Advantage

Nations with trade surplus have several competitive advantage s by having excess reserves in its Current Account; the nation has the money to buy the assets of other countries. For Instance, China and Japan use their Surpluses to buy U.S bonds. Purchasing the debt of other nations allows the buyer a degree of political influence. An October 2010 New York Times article explains how President Obama must consistently engage in discussions with China about its $28 Billion deficit with the country. Similarly, the United States hinges its ability to consume on China’s continuing purchase of U.S assets and cheap goods. Carrying a surplus also provides a cash flow with which to reinvest in its machinery, labour force and economy. In this regard, carrying a surplus is akin to a business making a profit-the excess reserves create opportunities and choices that nations with debts necessarily have by virtue of debts and obligations to repay considerations.

Trade Deficits Advantage

George Alessandria, Senior Economist for the Philadelphia Federal Reserve explains trade deficits also indicate an efficient allocation of Resources: Shifting the production of goods and services to China allows U.S businesses to allocate more money towards its core competences, such as research and development. Debt also allows countries to take on more ambitious undertakings and take greater risks. Though the U.S no longer produces and export as many goods and services, the nations remains one of the most innovative. For Example, Apple can pay its workers more money to develop the Best Selling, Cutting Edge Products because it outsources the production of goods to countries overseas.


In this chapter, efforts were made to explain some of the issues concerning balance of trade and trying to X-ray some of the arguments in favour of trade balances and imbalances with a view to finding answers to some salient questions and making for proper understanding of the concept of trade balances surplus and deficit which is fast becoming a major problem in the world’s economy today which scholars like John Maynard Keynes earlier predicted.

In a bid to finding a solution to this, we shall be discussing from the following sub-headings;

(a). Conditions where trade imbalances may be problematic.
(b). Conditions where trade imbalances may not be problematic.

2.1. Conditions where trade imbalances may be problematic

Those who ignore the effects of long run trade deficits may be confusing David Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage with Adam Smith’s principle of absolute advantage, specifically ignoring the latter. The economist Paul Craig Roberts notes that the comparative advantage principles developed by David Ricardo do not hold where the factors of production are internationally mobile. Global labor arbitrage, a phenomenon described by economist Stephen S. Roach, where one country exploits the cheap labor of another, would be a case of absolute advantage that is not mutually beneficial. Since the stagflation of the 1970s, the U.S. economy has been characterized by slower GDP growth. In 1985, the U.S. began its growing trade deficit with China. Over the long run, nations with trade surpluses tend also to have a savings surplus. The U.S. generally has lower savings rates than its trading partners, which tend to have trade surpluses. Germany, France, Japan, and Canada have maintained higher savings rates than the U.S. over the long run.

Few economists believe that GDP and employment can be dragged down by an over-large deficit over the long run. Others believe that trade deficits are good for the economy. The opportunity cost of a forgone tax base may outweigh perceived gains, especially where artificial currency pegs and manipulations are present to distort trade.

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