WIA Report

The Balance of Trade in Telecommunications Equipment

A trade deficit, or a deficit in the balance of trade, occurs when imports are greater than exports. Over the last decade, there are 10 core countries that consistently account for around 75 percent of the value of world exports in telecommunications equipment.

In important ways, the information society has familiar patterns of dependency: developing nations are reliant on a core group of rich countries to produce telecommunications equipment. ((Staff calculations based on data from: World Bank. (2006). World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank; International Telecommunication Union. (2006). International Telecommunication Indicators. Geneva: International Telecommunication Union.)) One of the first noticeable trends is that almost 60 countries – all developing countries – have no recorded values of formal trade in telecommunications equipment over the last decade. There certainly is such equipment in these countries, and we might assume that this equipment arrives through personal transactions and the informal sector. From lowest to highest value of telecommunications exports over the decade, the 10 core countries include Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.

Of the 155 countries with some data on telecommunications imports and exports over the last ten years, 122 countries have never had a positive balance of trade. ((Download WIA spreadsheet Imports and Exports of Telecommunications Equipment.)) In other words, only 33 of these countries have ever exported more equipment than they have imported; most countries in the world have only ever been in a deficit position, importing much more than exporting.

Some countries with large trade gaps are core countries dealing with the manufacturing of telecommunications equipment. They import and export equipment as part of their modern industrial output and are not simply importing technologies for their consumers to use. This is a small group, of course, and most of the world relies on this small group of core technology manufacturers to provide the infrastructure for the information society. There are 145 countries with more than one year of records for a balance of trade on telecommunications equipment. Of those countries with at least two years of records since 1994, only 50 countries had their balance of trade improve over time. On average over the last decade, 10 core countries have produced three-fourths of the worlds export value in telecommunications equipment.

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