A common misconception about international trade is to consider that nations are the trading units. Nations are simply the unit used to record accounts since trade flows crossing borders are usually subject to customs procedures and declarations. In reality, the great majority of trade flows concern corporations exchanging parts and goods with other corporations. They are the common unit of account.
About 80% of international trade occurs in supply chains organized by multinational corporations. Of this, about one-third concerns elements (production plants, distribution centers, warehouses, etc.) of the same multinational corporation exchanging goods. This figure is above 50% if only advanced economies are considered, such as the trade between Canada and the United States or the European Union. Global trade has thus gradually shifted from an inter-industrial to an intra-industrial structure of exchange, a trend favored by the emergence of global supply chains.