The balance of trade (BOT) is the difference between a country's imports and its exports for a given time period. The balance of trade is the largest component of the country's balance of payments (BOP). Economists use the BOT as a statistical tool to help them understand the relative strength of a country's economy versus other countries' economies and the flow of trade between nations. The balance of trade is also referred to as the trade balance or the international trade balance.
Debit items include imports, foreign aid, domestic spending abroad and domestic investments abroad. Credit items include exports, foreign spending in the domestic economy and foreign investments in the domestic economy. By subtracting the credit items from the debit items, economists arrive at a trade deficit or trade surplus for a given country over the period of a month, quarter or year.
There are countries where it is almost certain that a trade deficit will occur. For example, the United States has had a trade deficit since 1976, in large part due to its imports of oil and consumer products. Conversely, China, a country that produces and exports many of the world's consumable goods, has recorded a trade surplus since 1995.