Where Stuff Is Made: An Illustrative Overview (Part 3: Manufactured Goods)

This is a visual story of where stuff is made, moved and consumed. From production to export, import to consumption, we’ll explore the flows of the world’s most crucial commodities and products. 

In Part 1 we covered $2.2T of agricultural products. Then in Part 2, we went over $6.6T of minerals, metals, and industrial materials. Now in Part 3, we dive into the secondary sector: $12.2T of manufactured goods.

We’ll start with the simplest, most basic, everyday household goods – clothing and furniture. Then we’ll progress to products of advanced manufacturing such as pharmaceuticals, integrated circuits, and aircraft.

Adapted from OEC 2021 Global Trade

Cotton: While technically an agricultural product, we’ve included cotton here as it’s a key upstream input to the apparel category. China and India are the top producers overall.


The $62B of global cotton trade supports this, with both countries also being the top exporters. Here, we can also see that Bangladesh is a major cotton importer.

Cotton exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $62B

However, spinning out $19B of raw cotton from the above reveals a different narrative. 

Raw cotton exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $19B

China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Pakistan are highly dependent on importing raw cotton feed from just a handful of raw cotton exporters. Just look at how much Asian red there is on the right below.

Now, looking at the finished product…

Clothing: Below is the global $261B knitted clothing accessory trade. The trend is generally the same for $229B of non-knitted clothing accessories too.

Knitted clothing accessories exporters (left) and importers (right) 2021. $261B

Below shows exports only. Notably, Italy and Germany rank surprisingly high. This is because exports are measured in dollars (think Italian suits). 


More importantly, it’s clear that Bangladesh and Vietnam are the clear contenders as top exporters after China. 

However, Vietnam is hands-down #2 for footwear exports.

Footwear exporters (left) and importers (right) 2021. $144B

Leather bags: Of the $105B Animal Hides category, $81B is leather products. Of this, $68B are leather bags (trunks and cases). After China, it’s France and Italy… those luxury handbags.

Leather bags exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $68B

Now we move onto the 3rd biggest eCommerce category: furniture.


Furniture: Includes usual furniture ($112B), seats ($97B), light fixtures ($64B), mattresses ($23B), and more.  

Notable top net exporters after China (emphasis on net) are Vietnam, Poland, and Italy. IKEA’s list of its top supplying countries validates this.

Furniture exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $311B

Again, Vietnam is particulary noteworthy here. Helped by its low wages and proximity to China, it’s done particularly well in capturing China’s spillover. Especially as more global firms adopt a “China plus one” strategy to diversify their manufacturing base.

Vietnam’s global export market share across various categories. Source

Cosmetics: France, South Korea, and Japan are leading net exporters. Below is the $154B perfumery and cosmetic category in aggregate.

Perfumery & cosmetics exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $154B

This is even more pronounced when we drill down to the largest subcategory: beauty products.

Perfumery & cosmetics HS4 disaggregation 2021. $154B
Beauty products exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $63B

Korea in particular has done well selling to China. K-pop soft power?


Toys: Includes sports equipment, video and card games, party decorations, outdoor recreational equipment etc. At $164B, trade volume for entertainment is on par with elevating beauty.

Toys HS4 disaggregation 2021. $164B

China wins in this space. Both export and import proportions are more or less the same for the component subcategories too. 

Toys exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $164B

Paper Goods: Surprisingly big category at $295B.

Paper Goods, HS4 disaggregation, 2021. $295B

Trade is highly regionalized. Africa’s imports of paper goods are disproportionately high compared to other goods the region acquires.

Paper goods exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $295B

Here’s $2.2T of global trade in chemical products.

Chemical products, HS2 disaggregation, 2021. $2.2T

Pharmceuticals: Overall top exporters are Germany, Switzerland, US, Belgium, and Ireland.


US and Europe are major importers.

Pharmaceutical Products exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $806B

Most of this $806B consists of packaged medicaments and vaccines.

Pharmaceutical products, HS6 disaggregation, 2021. $806B

Packaged medication: Germany, Switzerland, India are major net exporters.

Medicine exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $433B

Vaccines: Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, China are major net exporters.

Vaccine exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $332B

Organic Chemicals: Huge category at $494B. 

Organic Chemicals HS4 disaggregation, 2021. $494B

East Asia and Western Europe are the top exporters.

Organic chemicals exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $494B

Now we move into the advanced manufacturing territory.

From here on, we need to be mindful when looking at export and import data. For most manufactured goods,  the top exporters of finished products are also the top importers of the components of those products. This is because supply chains are highly globalised, especially for products with many specialised components.

Take the broad ‘electronics’ category for instance. This includes consumer electronics, industrial electronics, medical devices, automotive electronics, aerospace and defence elcetronics, and chips. 

The top electronics exporters ….

Data source

… are also the top importers.

Data source

This is because of the highly vertically fragmented (ie extremely low vertical integration) and specialised nature of the global electronics value chain. 

However, if we look at the top 10 electronics exporters and subtract their corresponding electronics imports, a completely different narrative comes into focus. 

Calculated from above data

Instruments: Mostly optical, photo & film equipment, and medical instruments, below is $792B of global ‘instruments’ trade. 

Instruments HS4 disaggregation 2021. $792B

Let’s drill into the top two: medical instruments and photo lab equipment.

Medical Instruments: Mexico and Ireland punch above their weight as exporters.

Medical instruments exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $150B

Photo Lab Equipment: Japan, US, Netherlands, and Singapore control exports. China, Taiwan, and South Korea dominate imports.

Photo lab equipment exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $150B

Next, we’ll pick out select items from the behemoth $3T electrical machinery and electronics category.

Electronic machinery and electronics, HS4 disaggregation, 2021. $3T

Domestic household appliances: While trade volume is smaller than other electronic categories, the broad nature of this category makes it a useful indicator of general appliance manufacturing origins. As anticipated, China exports and US imports.

Domestic electronic appliances exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $36B 

Phones: iPhones are assembled in China; Samsung smartphones in Vietnam.

Phone exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $121B 

Broadcasting equipment: For radio or TV; includes cameras and recorders etc. At $473B, this category is about 4x larger than phones.

Exporters are similar as above with phones. But importers are US and Europe.

Broadcasting equipment exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $473B 

Integrated circuits: The pinnacle of advanced manufacturing. At $823B, global chip trade is bigger than that of petroleum ($746B), and just a little under crude oil ($951B). With TSMC, Taiwan is the world’s high-end chip factory.

Integrated circuits exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $823B

Now we look at a selection from $2.4T of machinery and mechanical appliances.

Machinery, Mechical Appliances & Parts, HS4 disaggregation, 2021, $2.4T

Computers: China still dominates computer exports. Mexico is still up there too. The US is a major net importer.

Computer exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $352B

Interestingly, almost 60% of the $352B above is mostly data storage units.

Computers, HS6 disaggregation, 2021. $352B

And here’s a map view of above with 2019 data. Same story.


Office Machine Parts: Basically printers, office IT hardware, cash registers etc. Compared to other electronic hardware, Chinese export dominance is less pronounced here. Asia leads.

Office Machine Parts exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $282B

Now we move onto large mechanical hardware.

Gas turbines: Aviation powerhouses, US, UK, and France are key players.

Gas turbine exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $132B

Trade is quite fragmented for the other major machinery items. For instance, we see this with…


Valves exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $102B

Air pumps

Air pumps exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $86B


Refrigerator exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $62B

… although with Air Conditioners, Thailand and Mexico are notable exporters.

Air conditioner exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $58B

Next, we have plus-sized hardware: $1.9T of transportation vehicles. Breakdown looks like this:

Transportation, HS2 disaggregation, 2021. $1.9T

For road vehicles overall ($1.5T), top net exporters are: Japan, Germany, Mexico, and South Korea.

Road vehicles (cars, trucks, buses etc) exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $1.5T

Cars: The above trends are amplified when we drill into cars only (at $723B, half of the make-up of above). Germany and Japan account for 30% of global exports.

Car exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $723B

There’s 3 points to call out here.

First, while global automobile production is indeed dominated by the top 15 auto giants, their manufacturing (and hence export) origin country is not necessarily the global HQ’s domicile. It’s spread all over the world. For instance, below shows the (shrinking) British car industry.


Second, although cars represent the top export category for many European nations (lots of purple on left export part of the global car trade graphic above)… 

Top export in every country (Europe)

… these same countries import a lot of cars too (lots of purple on right import part of the global car trade graphic shown again below).

Car exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $723B

Third, China has successfully reduced its import reliance on this very expensive item. Measured by count rather than dollars, Chinese production is global #1. 


Trucks: Mexico specializes in truck production. Thailand is big on exports too. Mining giants Canada and Australia are a disproportionate importers.

Truck exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $145B

Also, American automobile production has shifted away from cars and towards trucks in recent decades.

US vehicle production shift

Ships: Here’s $135B of marine vessels and structures broken down. It’s a big category, but smaller than trucks ($145B).

Ships, HS4 disaggregation 2021. $135B

Overall, South Korea, China, and Japan are top exporters. Liberia, Marshall islands, Panama, and Cayman Islands are big importers.

Ship exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $135B

Breaking this down into large passenger and cargo ships further accentuates the above insights. Both sellers and buyers are highly concentrated.

Passenger and cargo ship exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $74B

Aircraft: Here’s $184B of global aircraft trade. 

Aircraft, HS6 disaggregation, 2021. $184B

France, US, and Germany lead exports.

Aircraft exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $184B

And much like ships, when we drill into the top category (fixed wing aircraft unladen weight >15t) we see an amplification of export and import concentration. Ireland is a major importer.

Aircraft fixed wing >15tonnes exports (left) and imports (right) 2021. $94B

Military: See my other post Lords of War: A Visual Exploration of Military Might for more.

By a long margin, the US and Russia are the world’s arms dealers.


The biggest buyers are states with cash, security-paranoia, and no legacy of advanced manufacturing: Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt. And to many’s surprise – Australia is the 4th largest buyer, ahead of China and Indonesia.


US arms go to Saudi Arabia, Australia, and South Korea. Russian arms go to India, China, and Algeria.


Below is a neat little summary of what we’ve covered so far: the most traded goods and the corresponding top exporters (green, left) and importers (yellow, right).


That wraps up $12.2T of manufactured goods.

Adapted from OEC 2021 Global Trade

Next and finally in Part 4, we’ll cover the tertiary sector: services (tourism, professional services etc). 

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy:

Where Stuff Is Made: An Illustrative Overview (Part 1: Agricultural Commodities)

Where Stuff Is Made: An Illustrative Overview (Part 2: Minerals, Metals, and Industrial Materials)

Where Stuff Is Made: An Illustrative Overview (Part 4: Services)

Lords of War: A Visual Exploration of Military Might