What is the difference between merchandise trade and trade in goods? Are they the same? If so, would total trade be just trade in goods + trade in services, aka merchandise trade + trade in services?

  • $\begingroup$ perhaps this is helpful; also see this $\endgroup$
    – user14471
    Oct 26, 2017 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ Apparently physical newspapers and returnable empty bottles should count as services rather than merchandise trade: their practical usage is more important than the paper and glass $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Oct 27, 2017 at 19:22

3 Answers 3


As far as I understand merchandise trade and trade in goods are the same.

The IMF Balance of Payments Manual breaks down international transactions according to standard categories. Trade is one of these categories. Trade is defined as international transactions involving products, i.e. exports and imports of goods (or merchandises) and services.

  • Merchandise or good trade are transactions involving the transfer of ownership of a tangible and moveable object from a seller to a buyer.
  • Services are transactions in which a consumer benefits from actions taken by the service provider.

There is a subtle sub-category, which is

  • Goods for processing that are transactions in which raw goods (e.g. cotton thread) from country A are exported to country B, where they undergo processing, and are then imported back into country A (e.g. t-shirts) without a transfer of ownership.

If one considers trade in goods (as the BoP approach) and merchandise trade (as the Census approach), then the following extract from (http://www.trade.gov/mas/ian/referenceinfo/tg_ian_001872.asp) might be useful to understand why these two concepts might differ.


Merchandise trade can be measured on a Census or Balance of Payments Basis:

Census Basis - Goods data compiled from the documents collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and reflect the movement of goods between foreign countries and the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and U.S. Foreign Trade Zones. They include government and non-government shipments of goods and exclude shipments between the United States and its territories and possessions, transactions with U.S. military, diplomatic and consular installations abroad, U.S. goods returned to the United States by its Armed Forces, personal and household effects of travelers, and in-transit shipments.

  • Free Alongside Ship (FAS) Export Value - Transaction price of the merchandise including inland freight, insurance, and other charges incurred in placing the merchandise alongside the carrier at the U.S. port of exportation. The value excludes any loading, transportation, or insurance costs beyond the port of exportation.
  • Customs Import Value - Price paid for merchandise when sold for exportation to the U.S. Additional costs for shipment, delivery and import duties, are not included.

Balance of Payments (BOP) Basis - The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) adjusts goods totals on a Census basis to bring the data in line with the concepts and definitions used to prepare the international and national accounts. These adjustments are necessary to supplement coverage of the Census basis data, to eliminate duplication of transactions recorded elsewhere in the international accounts, and to value transactions according to a standard definition. These adjustments also allow for the goods trade totals to be summed with services trade totals for a more accurate account of U.S. total trade.


Yes. Merchandise trade is nothing but trade in goods. So total trade would be trade in merchandise + trade in services. Goods simply being transported through a country (goods in transit) or temporarily admitted or withdrawn (except for goods for inward or outward processing) do not add to or subtract from the stock of material resources of a country and are not included in the international merchandise trade statistics

Reference: http://www.wikinvest.com/wiki/Merchandise_Trade



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