Since the 1980s, the contribution of East Asia to global trade has increased substantially, notably for its exports. From about 16% of the value of global exports in 1980, this share climbed to about 32% in 2010 and 36% in 2021. This trend can partially be explained by substantial investments that went into new export-oriented manufacturing facilities using the advantages of low production costs, notably in terms of labor. In the early 1980s, East Asia was a net importer, and as economic development accelerated in the late 1980s, the gap between exports and imports became negligible.
The gap between exports and imports substantially increased after 1997, when currency devaluations made the region more competitive. Yet, as development occurs, East Asian economies are consuming (importing) increasing amounts of resources and finished goods.