While the contribution of leading traders to global exports can fluctuate in time, the share of the leading exporters (United States, Japan, Germany, and China) remains relatively stable, around 32% of global exports. The relative decline of American exports has been an enduring trend, losing its status as the world’s largest exporter in 2003 to Germany and China in 2009. The post-World War II recovery of Germany (West Germany until 1991) was rapid, and by the 1970s, Germany achieved a share of global exports on par with the United States. Since then, this share has remained on par.
Japan’s post-World War II recovery was similar to Germany’s and leaned on exports, with cars becoming an important component of its international trade. From a slower start, Japan’s share substantially improved up to the mid-1980s as the country reached a share similar to the United States and Germany. However, this share declined afterward, the outcome of the offshoring of its manufacturing activities and a decline in its competitiveness.
From the 1990s, many American, Japanese, Korean, and European corporations started to relocate manufacturing facilities to China. Coupled with the opening of China to international trade through economic reforms, its share of exports surged in the 2000s. Still, a share of Chinese exports is embedded within supply chains in part controlled by foreign interests.