Source: WTO. (CIS: Commonwealth of Independent States)
Europe accounts for the largest share of international trade in the world, about 38.6% of the value of global exports as of 2021. The importance of this relation is related to the high level of economic development of European nations, political integration (the European Union), the small distances involved, and the size of the European market. The variety of geographical reference units does not facilitate international comparisons, especially with North America. For instance, while the United States is comparable in size to the European continent, its internal trade (interstate) does not count as international trade, even if the implied trading distances are often higher than those within Western Europe. Thus, what counts as “international trade” in Europe would merely be regional trade in North America.
Asian countries experienced an important growth in their share of global exports, particularly since the 1990s. They accounted for 35.8% of the value of global exports in 2021, whereas this share was only 14% in 1973. This change is the outcome of the growth of Asian economies, particularly leaning on export-oriented strategies. The Middle East has seen a fluctuation of its share correlated with changes in oil prices. The declining share of Europe and North America is the result of lower comparative growth levels, implying faster industrialization in developing countries. Besides, the increasing share of developing countries in global exports is in large part attributable to Asian countries.
South America and especially Africa experienced a rather weak performance in recent decades. When international trade was more concerned with commodities (in the 1950s and 1960s), the share of Africa and South America was substantially higher. However, since then, Africa has been plagued with endemic political and development problems, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The share of South America has been edging up in recent years, mainly attributable to economic development taking place in the region.