Thailand : Trade Balance, Exports and Imports (2018)

Map of Thailand

Historically, maybe a bit surprising for some, Thailand had a negative trade balance with the rest of the world, for a big chunk 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.

Up to August 2018, it looked like there would be a vastly positive trade balance for the whole year. However, towards the end of the year, there was a less than satisfactory development in Thai exports, and the trade balance ended positively by 'only' 3.254 billion U.S. Dollar. Thailand imported a total value of 27.799 billion U.S. dollar in crude oil, which was close to 8 billion U.S. dollar more than in 2017, which explains a great part of the lesser positive trade balance.


For those interested : data for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, 2017

Trade Balance between Thailand and Rest of the World (1991-2018)

Trade Balance Thailand-Rest of the World 1991-2018


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.

In 2018 total exports from Thailand were valued at 252.486 billion U.S. dollar, an increase of 6.7 % compared to the previous year.

Below are listed the most important export products by value in U.S Dollar for 2018.
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), and again by 23 % in 2018 (compared to 2017). Ethylene and propylene products increased exports by 19 % in 2018, indicating the importance of Thailand petrochemical industry.

Rubber and rubber products feature large, Thailand being the prime rubber producer in the world.

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, 2018Export Value of Goods exported from Thailand (2018)

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 the most important export destination. However, in 2018 exports to China further increased by a mere 2.27 % to 30.175 billion U.S. Dollar.

Export Destinations of Goods from Thailand (2018)

Export destination of Thai products, 2018

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%). In 2018, the value of imported goods increased further to 249.232 billion U.S. Dollar (+12.51%). So the value of imported goods increased much more than the value of exported goods in 2018.

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. The trend of higher oil prices persisted during the first half of 2018, but was reversed during the second half of the year. Overall, imports of crude oil increased to 27.799 billion U.S. dollar, which was of course substantial.

General machinery, parts and electrical machinery are, as before, important imported productions by value in 2018.

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 (but increased by about 14 % to around 3.5 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 (2018)

Value of imported Goods into Thailand, 2018.


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. 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'. Further imports during 2018 did not really materialize though, with only a slight 2 % increase.

For both imports and exports, China has become an utterly important (and the largest) trading partner of Thailand. Imports from China increase by about 13 % in 2018.

During 2018, oil exporting countries from the Middle East (U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Qatar) increased the value of their exports to Thailand. 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.

Import Origin of Goods imported into Thailand (2018)

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.

2018 saw a small positive trade balance of just 3.254 billion U.S. Dollar.

Trade balances with major trading blocks did not change abruptly during 2018.

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 2018, though the trade balance is somewhat more negative than 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 strong against both the U.S. Dollar and the Euro.


Trade Balance between Thailand and most important trading Blocks and Countries (2018)


Resources : Data are somewhat better presented than before on this new website provided by the Ministry of Commerce