Thailand : Trade Balance, Exports and Imports (2017)

Map of Thailand

Historically, maybe a bit surprising for some, Thailand had a negative trade balance with the rest of the world, for a bit chunk of the time. If a positive trade balance is present, it remains relatively small (see period between 2001-2010)

Of course, if not for crude oil imports, the trade balance would be positive all the time. This applies to a lot of other countries as well.

Notice the striking trade deficits in the 1995-2000 period. This is around the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which started off in Thailand. I remember reading at the time preceding the crisis, that the country was importing a lot of 'capital goods', which was reportedly a good thing. Obviously too much of a good thing, turned out to be bad later on.
In 2014, there was a tiny trade deficit recorded of about 380 million U.S. Dollar. In 2015, the trade balance was positive by about 11.72 billion U.S. Dollar, which can be explained kind of completely by the drop in value of imported crude oil and oil products. 2016 saw a larger positive trade balance of 20.66 billion U.S. Dollar. However, total trade (import+exports) decreased during 2016 from 417 to 410 billion U.S. Dollar (-1.68%), which throughout the year appeared worrying to the Thai authorities. 2017 saw a persistence of the current trend with a positive trade balance of 13.93 billion U.S. Dollar.

Early results up to August 2018, see s positive trade balance of 23.6 billion U.S. Dollar (with significantly increased exports). Likely this will result in a positive trade balance of close to 30 billion U.S. Dollar, which would be the highest in history.

For those interested : data for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016

Trade Balance between Thailand and Rest of the World (1991-2017)

Trade Balance Thailand-Rest of the World 1991-2017

Total exports from Thailand by value in 2017 amounted to 236.69 billion U.S. Dollars. this was 9.89 % higher than exports in 2016 at 215.33 billion U.S. Dollars

Below are listed the most important export products by value in U.S Dollar for 2017.
Some comments :

Car exports, including accessories and parts, motorcycles, have are main export products from Thailand. The country was listed as 12th in the list of countries with the highest car (including commercial vehicles) production in 2014.

Computer related products (automatic data processing, electronic integrated circuits), as well as chemical products (when including ethylene and propylene) are major export products. Export of chemical products by value increased by more than 20% in 2017 (compared to 2016). Also refined fuel saw a substantial increase.

Rubber and rubber products feature large, Thailand being the prime rubber producer in the world. While rubber prices are still in the dolldrums, value of exported rubber and rubber products increased substantially when compared with 2016 (by 35.7 and 55.8 % respectively).

Compared to industrial manufactured goods, exports of food products (while a big chunk of the population is still working in the food industry) are more limited in value : fish (tuna, shrimp), tapioca and rice are most prominent.

Exported Products from Thailand, 2017Export Value of Goods exported from Thailand (2017)

Asean countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei) take the largest chunk out of Thai exports. In a second group : China, U.S.A., all of Europe, and Japan, are of almost equal importance). Exports to China increased by 23.7% during 2017, making it now the most important export destination.

Export Destinations of Goods from Thailand (2017)

Export destination of Thai products, 2017

Thailand imported goods valued at 222.76 billion U.S. Dollars in 2017. This was much higher than in 2016, when imports into Thailand reached 194.67 billion U.S. Dollar.(+11.4%)

Imported goods into Thailand :

A major imported good by value, fuelling the Thai economy, is crude oil. However, import value of crude oil decreased from 39.35 (2013) to 33.22 billion U.S. Dollar in 2014, due to lower oil prices. In 2015 the value of crude oil imported dropped significantly to 'only' 19.52 billion U.S. Dollar. This decreased further in 2016 to 15.18 billion U.S. Dollar. 2017 saw a substantial increase in the value of imported crude at 19.86 billion U.S. Dollar. This trend likely will persist in 2018.

General machinery, parts and electrical machinery are, as before, important imported productions by value in 2017.

Gold and silver interestingly, are one of the most important items. All the gold shops you see around Bangkok and Thailand, have to be provided with their gold, since Thailand has only a very limited own production.

Household appliances, despite all the imported goods one sees on sale in the department stores, are a relatively minor post. It is dwarfed by all the industrial goods such as machinery, iron, steel, chemicals, computers, etc.

Also relevant is the minor contribution of medicines (just higher than 3 billion U.S. Dollar). This despite the fact that there are quite a few top medical facilities and a very prominent medical tourism industry.
It reflects the fact that health expenditure in Thailand overall is still very low, at about 3.9 % of GDP (fact and figures, reported by Bangkok Post, Januari 2014).

Import Value of Goods imported into Thailand (2017)

Value of imported Goods into Thailand, 2017.


The U.S.A. (when compared to its importance as an export market for Thai goods), is of relatively less importance as an exporter to Thailand. Interestingly though, imports from the U.S.A. increased by 23.45% during 2017, so hopefully, the present U.S. administration will be sufficiently satisfied by this 'improvement'.

For both imports and exports, China has become an utterly important (and the largest) trading partner of Thailand.

Value of imported goods decreased a lot for imports from the oil exporting countries. Interestingly, 'small' Switzerland exports relatively (compare to other European countries) a lot to Thailand..

Japan, the ASEAN countries, China, and all of Europe, provide the bulk of imported goods into Thailand. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia (despite a long lasting diplomatic row), Qatar, apparently provide most of the imported crude oil.

Import Origin of Goods imported into Thailand (2017)

The trade deficit in 2013 was 22.7 billion U.S. Dollar. In 2014 just a deficit of 380 million U.S. Dollar. Then, in 2015 we got a positive trade balance of 11.72 billion U.S. Dollar. This increased even further in 2016 to 20.66 billion U.S. Dollar. 2017 saw a further increase of the positive trade balance to 13.93 billion U.S. Dollar.

Thailand has substantial trade deficits with both China and Japan. There is also a substantial Thai-Japanese industry, exporting to the world from Thailand.

Thailand has a substantial trade surplus with the ASEAN countries and with the U.S.A. Trade with Europe is well balanced in 2017 (as before).

Possible the overall positive trade balance, together with the massive income from tourism, explains the persistent strenght of the Thai baht, which remains quite stable against the U.S. Dollar and has substantially strenghtened agains the Euro in the last few years.


Trade Balance between Thailand and most important trading Blocks and Countries (2017)

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