International trade is a steady sea of import and export that involves countries all over the world, and people sometimes confuse the two types of trade. Put simply, an import is something that is brought into a country over an international boundary, while an export is something that is shipped out of a country over an international boundary. If an American grocery store chain buys bananas from Mexico, it is said to be importing the bananas, while the Mexican produce company which grows the bananas is exporting them.
Most countries attempt to achieve a trade balance, in which the flow of imports and exports is relatively equal. If a country exports too much, it may not be able to support its domestic needs, while a country that imports excessive amounts of products may not have enough money to support the high volume. In a country with a trade balance, these rates are about equal, with nations exporting excess items for sale, and importing the goods that it needs.
The confusion between the two terms can be alleviated by looking at the prefixes and comparing them to other known words. The prefix “ex-” means “out” or “away,” as in “exit.” Exporting can be thought of as shipping goods away from a domestic producer to a foreign buyer. “Im-” comes from the Latin “in-” which means “into,” so an import is literally taken “into” a domestic “port.” The important thing to remember about the difference between the two is that it has to do with the direction in which the goods are traveling.
Many companies perform both import and export services. They handle goods for domestic producers who want to sell abroad without having to deal with the details of exporting, which can include passing inspections, paying fees and tariffs, and organizing transport, as well as finding buyers. Import-export companies also liaise with foreign companies that would like to export their products, providing support to ensure that shipments go smoothly.
In some regions, there is controversy over importing and exporting. Some domestic producers argue that imports of inexpensive products manufactured overseas can cut into their bottom line, with foreign producers providing goods at lower cost because they have cheaper raw materials, less stringent labor laws, or favorable trade agreements. Domestic consumers sometimes actively seek out goods that are produced domestically to support their national economy, and they may protest the widespread export of domestic goods, arguing that it makes it challenging to find domestically-produced products in various areas.