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Europe is about to have the world’s largest trade surplus

By Steve LeVine
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

One of the most dramatic economic shifts currently taking place in the world is in the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf—until recently swimming in excess cash but now, as oil plummets, turning to a chronic trade deficit. Their misery, however, is to Europe’s benefit. Because of those lower oil prices, there is a very real possibility that the European Union will become the world’s largest surplus economy next year.

These are takeaways in a note to clients (pdf) from Michael Pearce at Capital Economics. Look at Pearce’s chart, which tracks the impact of $60-a-barrel oil. The Gulf’s considerable turn of fortunes means a trade deficit for the first since 1998, a time when oil prices plunged to $10 a barrel.

Capital Economics

But for China and the euro zone, $60-a-barrel oil means lower import payments and an improvement in their trade balances, worth 0.2% of global GDP in each case. Another big shift is in the US, whose oil imports have plunged from about 11 million barrels a day in 2008 to 7 million now, offset by domestic oil production surging to 9 million. The US trade imbalance looks likely to drop to below 2% of US GDP, its lowest since 1997.

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