Trade Compliance

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Reimaging the Economic Complexity of Global Trade

Posted August 28, 2015


The global economy is a mind-bogglingly complex system made up of a vast web of supply chains and trade networks involving innumerable commodities and manufactured products. To make this easier for people to grasp, Owen Cornec and Romain Vuillemot, data visualization researchers at Harvard Kennedy School, have reimagined global trade as “clouds of confetti” displayed on an interactive 3D map.

Dubbed the “Globe of Economic Complexity,” the somewhat psychedelic visualization shows $15 trillion of annual trade exchanged between the world’s economies being represented by thousands of colourful dots, each one symbolizing $100 million of exported products. By navigating the incredibly detailed map, viewers can zoom in on any given country to examine their range of exports, volumes and the various links between them.

The map also includes interactive graphs and bar charts that provide additional insight into the dynamic worldwide movement of products and the intricate trade connections between commodities that might otherwise be elusive to non-economists.

“We wanted to find a novel way to convey the scale, diversity, and inequality of world economies using new 3D web technologies, to make these massive amounts of international trade beautiful and understandable,” Cornec said.

The data for the project was generated with Harvard University’s Center for International Development’s 2012 world export data, which originally came from the United Nations Comtrade database. According to the model’s website, the Globe not only shows where products are made and shipped to, but it can also “use this information to suggest products a country could begin manufacturing in order to fuel economic growth.”