Coming and Going: Imports and Exports Throughout the World


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cookiesImagine that you are baking cookies for your family. Your next-door neighbor drops by and tries the cookies. She is very impressed with how tasty the cookies are and she realizes that they are much better than hers. She also realizes that she doesn't have the ingredients necessary to make her own cookies: flour, sugar, eggs, and chocolate chips.

She asks if it would be possible for you to make her cookies; she offers to pay you for the ingredients, time, and labor necessary to bake them. You say "No problem", knowing that it would be easy for you to bake some more.

When you complete the following activities you should be able to explain the difference between an import and an export and explain why countries trade.


Now, instead of imagining you and your neighbor, pretend that all of this concerns two countries. One country manufactures something good and useful, such as the cookies, but the other country does not have the materials or labor necessary to manufacture this product. In that case, the second country would buy the product, or cookies, from the first country.

The country that sells the cookies is called the exporter and the product it sells is called the export.

The country that buys is called the importer and the products it buys are called the import.

mapThe exchange of imports and exports is called trade. Trade works when both countries trading feel "better off" than they did before the trade. For example, if people in the United States enjoy drinking coffee, but do not have the right climate to grow coffee beans, they import coffee beans from a country where they grow easily. However, if apples grow easily in the United States, but they don't grow easily in a very cold climate, we might export apples to another country. In both of these trades, the importing and the exporting countries are better off after the trade. In trades, the trade goods are not always natural resources. Sometimes people trade products or parts of products as well.


Activity 1

toysFirst, go to Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online and look up the words import and export. Once you have finished this, take a look at the objects your teacher has gathered. All of these objects were manufactured in another country but purchased in this country. For each of the objects, quietly consider the following:

  • What materials is the object made of?
  • What unusual characteristics does that object have?
  • What country might have those materials or characteristics?

Activity 2

In the interactive activity "Mapping Exports", you will figure out which places in the world offer which exports. You will then decide which exports you would import into the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau: Foreign Trade Statistics website will help you find out about the exports from other countries.


Look at your list of products or resources you imported into the United States. Next to each product, tell whether the import is a product (something created by people) or a natural resource (something that is found naturally).

Then, answer the following:

  • Why did you select each of the imports?
  • Are any of those imports also built or found in the United States? If so, why did you choose to import them?
  • What might happen if those imports could not be imported into the United States? Could we live without them?
  • Which import on your list do you think is most important? Why?


Trade your responses and answer the following:

  • What is the difference between an import and an export?
  • Did you and your partner select the same import as being the most important?
  • Why might a country want to export products to the United States?