Which are the biggest players in the global economy, and what are the building blocks that make up their wealth? Here we have listed the planet’s top economies based on International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates1 of gross domestic product (GDP) from October 2022.
1. United States – GDP: $25,035,164m
What country has the biggest economy in the world? Well, it’s the United States, and it has been for quite some time.
The planet’s largest economy has held the top spot, by most measures, for more than a century, with the First World War cementing its status as a global leader in productivity2.
Today, the nation is primarily a service economy, with this sector accounting for more than 80% of US GDP, according to estimates from back in 2017. Additionally, the nation is the third largest manufacturer in the world, though a weak manufacturing PMI3 reading of 46.2 in December 2022 indicates some recent contraction.
The US is also home to two of the world’s largest companies by market cap in Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). These are constituents of the nation’s huge technology sector, though the US economy is also largely powered by healthcare, construction and retail businesses.
Additionally, the nation’s New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ are the two largest stock exchanges in the world by both market capitalization and volume traded.
2. China – GDP: $18,321,197m
Gaining ground on the top spot is China, the United States’ key rival for global economic superpower status. The nation’s GDP has increased rapidly over the last few decades, with the economy not contracting in almost 50 years and scoring double-digit annual growth multiple times4.
Like the US, services make up the most significant portion of China’s economy. However, it only accounts for 51.6%, according to estimates from 20175, with manufacturing accounting for more than 40%. In fact, China is the planet’s largest manufacturer and exporter.
Electrical goods, electronic machinery and equipment, clothing, textiles and footwear are the nation’s largest exports6.
3. Japan – GDP: $4,300,621m
If this list were including trading blocks and unions of states, this number three spot would be occupied by the European Union. But it doesn’t, so instead, here we are talking about Japan.
Though primarily concerned with services, the Japanese economy is also heavily influenced by its precision manufacturing and technology efforts. Household names like Toshiba, Canon, Fujifilm, Nintendo and Sony (NYSE: SONY) are major players here.
However, it is facing increasing competition in these areas from nations such as China, South Korea and Taiwan, which each have rapidly growing technology sectors.
Auto-manufacturing is a huge industry as well, sitting as Earth’s second biggest7 exporter of motor vehicles. Well-known Japanese auto brands include the likes of Toyota (NYSE: TM), Honda, Daihatsu, Nissan, Suzuki, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Isuzu, Kawasaki and Yamaha.
4. Germany – GDP: $4,031,149m
Our first European entry on the list is Germany, the powerhouse and most populous nation of the European Union.
Like in Japan, car making is a huge industry here, with German manufacturing, in general, being widely regarded as a mark of quality around the world. In fact, Germany is the greatest exporter8 of vehicles on the planet, accounting for almost 20% of vehicles shipped across borders.
Machinery and chemical products are the nation’s next two most significant exports9.
In fact, Germany is well-known as consistently having one of the world’s largest trade surpluses10, lagging behind only China in 2020.
The nation has also leaned into renewable energy more than many other major economies11, with 46% of its energy coming from renewable energy sources in 2022. With the war in Ukraine putting pressure on fuel supplies, there is significant pressure to increase reliance on renewables.
5. India – GDP: $3,468,566m
With more than 1.3 billion people calling it home, India has unsurprisingly seen rapid growth over recent decades. Since the start of the new millennium GDP growth has averaged between 6 and 7% each year12.
However, the nation is also home to extreme income inequality. Figures from Oxfam show that the richest 10% of Indian society holds 77% of the nation’s wealth, and the organization says the problem is getting worse13.
The majority of the nation’s massive workforce is engaged in agricultural jobs and farming, but services offer the biggest contribution to the nation’s economy by sector.
While tourism, IT services, financial services and aviation are key players here, retail is the big contributor. That’s because the Indian retail market is the fourth largest in the world, standing at $690bn14. With a young and rapidly growing population, this is likely to increase significantly.
6. United Kingdom – GDP: $3,198,470m
It might be suffering from high inflation and the imminent threat of recession, but the UK economy remains one of the world’s strongest.
The most important industry here is financial services. London is the planet’s second largest financial center after New York city, and its power helps to make the United Kingdom the planet’s largest net exporter of financial services, ahead of the United States and Switzerland15.
It’s also a major hub of forex trading, with $3.8trn in daily trades16. This accounts for more than a third of the total trading volume and makes the city a bigger center than New York, Singapore and Hong Kong combined.
The wide array of services includes family offices, investment management, insurance, exchanges, pension funds, hedge funds, private equity firms and reinsurance markets.
Even so, the nation is suffering something of an identity crisis. It faces a recession deeper than that which might be suffered by the European Union, the bloc which the UK left following the shock result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The aerospace, pharmaceuticals and fossil fuel industries remain key contributors to the UK economy, but the latter could be damaged by further efforts from Scottish nationalists to pursue independence.
7. France – GDP: $2,778,090m
We’ve hopped across the channel for the next entry on the list. Like its near neighbor, France has evolved into a service economy. However, there are several aspects that make the nation’s economy particularly unique.
Luxury goods have a major influence in the French economy, continuing in the nation’s spirit of fashion and emphasis on good taste. Major players in France’s luxury goods sector include LVMH, Kering and L’Oreal. In fact, LVMH CEO, Chair and Co-Founder Bernard Arnault is now the planet’s richest person with a staggering net worth of $164bn17.
France is also a major player in energy, particularly nuclear energy. Nearly three-quarters of the nation’s energy stems from nuclear sources, and the government has announced plans to build six new reactors18. This makes the nation the world’s biggest exporter of energy. Publicly listed, EDF is the biggest player in this sector.
8. Canada – GDP: $2,200,352m
Like France, energy and fossil fuels are an important facet of the Canadian economy. That’s because of the resource-rich nature of the nation’s geography, which has helped it to become the world’s fifth largest producer of crude oil19.
Additionally, Canada is the second biggest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, while it is also a significant producer of coal and natural gas20. Key players in the Canadian energy and fossil fuels space include Cenovus Energy (NYSE: CVE) and Enbridge (NYSE: ENB).
Continuing the theme of natural resource wealth, mining is also big business in Canada21. The nation is one of the top five global producers for diamonds, gemstones, gold, indium, niobium, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate and uranium, as well as the leading producer of potash.
9. Russia – GDP: $2,133,092m
Despite being embroiled in its Ukrainian war, Russia came in at number nine on the IMF’s GDP estimates. Like Canada, the nation is abundant in valuable natural resources.
Russian oil made up 14% of the planet’s production in 2021 and it is also the second largest producer of natural gas behind the United States22.
However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems likely to damage the nation’s economy significantly. Sanctions and boycotts from other countries, particularly its major trading partners in Europe have been ramping up.
For example, the European Union has significantly reduced its reliance on Russian gas, increasing imports from alternative suppliers like Norway, Algeria and the US.
As such, November 2022 saw the Russian economy fall into recession after wholesale trade fell by 22.6% and retail trade dipped by 6.2%23.
10. Italy – GDP: $1,996,934m
Unsurprisingly, given the country’s reputation as being home to some of the finest cuisines in the world, agriculture continues to play a part in Italy’s economy. It exported more than $7bn worth of wine in 202024, while it is also the biggest exporter of pasta and processed tomatoes25.
But the impact of these products is now dwarfed by Italy’s manufacturing industry. Key here is the automotive industry, which accounts for more than 6% of the nation’s GDP and employs almost 300,000 Italians26. Major players include Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Lancia.
11. Iran – GDP: $1,973,738m
Next up is Iran, which sits just outside the top ten despite decades of fraught relations with the Western world. Oil and gas production is key to the Middle Eastern nation, holding the third and second largest reserves of the respective resources on the planet27.
Unique aspects of the nation’s economy include bonyads, which some sources report as controlling as much as 40% of the nation’s economy28. Functioning similarly to charity trusts, bonyads provide services like social support and rehabilitation but also act as controlling entities of companies across numerous sectors in Iran.
12. Brazil – GDP: $1,894,708m
It’s suffered its fair share of political turmoil in recent years, but Brazil remains one of the planet’s strongest economies. Even so, the nation has dropped out of the top ten and was, as recently as 2012, the sixth largest economy in the world29.
Being rich in natural resources, mining and petroleum production are major industries for Brazil. Iron ore and crude oil were the country’s second and third largest exports in 202130. The top five list was rounded out by Brazil’s agricultural sector with soybeans, raw sugar and beef.
13. South Korea – GDP: $1,734,207m
Despite sitting next door to one of the planet’s most unhinged despotic regimes, the South Korean economy has flourished on the back of technological innovation and significant export activity.
Electricals and electronic equipment made up almost a third of the nation’s exports in 202131, with major players including Samsung, LG Electronics and SK Hynix. At present South Korea appears highly reliant on China for trade, with its near neighbour making up for more than 20% of exports32.
14. Australia – GDP: $1,724,787m
Mining is the name of the game in Australia and makes up the largest sector by share of GDP33, accounting for 10.4% between 2019 and 2020. Gold, coal and iron are the most commonly mined materials, but the nation is also a leading producer of cobalt and lithium.
Additionally, the nation is host to a number of major banking and financial services companies like Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, National Australia Bank and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, with this group known as the ‘Big Four’.
15. Mexico – GDP: $1,424,533m
Mexico is heavily reliant on the United States as a trading partner34, with its largest exports being motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts, computers and crude petroleum. Major US car companies like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler have manufacturing operations in Mexico.
It’s evident that the nation has a significant industrial sector, which accounts for nearly a third of Mexico’s GDP35. The nation’s services sector is also large, with banking, tourism and commerce standing out as major employers and money-makers.
16. Spain – GDP: $1,389,927m
The Spanish economy was hit particularly hard by the major worldwide recession following the 2008 financial crisis. For six years the population variously endured economic contractions, rising unemployment and increasing prices of key goods like petroleum. Eventually, the economy hauled itself out of trouble with growth beating estimates in 201636.
A developed and high-income economy, Spain now stands out as having built the one of the largest tourism industries in the world. The nation consistently ranks in the top five for tourism receipts and was the second most visited country on the planet in 2018, trailing behind its neighbour France by just 7 million travellers.
17. Indonesia – GDP: $1,289,429m
Indonesia’s emerging market economy remains more heavily reliant on agriculture than many other nations in the top 30, with the sector employing more than a quarter of its population.
These efforts make the nation the world’s biggest exporter of palm oil and coconut oil37, shipping $17.9bn and $2.01bn of the products, respectively, in 2020.
Oil and gas production also plays a key role in the nation’s economy, while it is also the planet’s third largest producer of coal after India and China38.
18. Saudi Arabia – GDP: $1,010,588m
It’s impossible to talk about Saudi Arabia’s economy without bringing up oil and Saudi Aramco. The nation is the planet’s biggest oil exporter39, and state-owned outfit Saudi Aramco is frequently named the world’s richest company40.
While oil dominates the picture, the Saudi government is seeking to diversify the nation’s economy. This includes major pushes into entertainment and tourism41, efforts which are complicated by the negative perception of Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record.
19. Netherlands – GDP: $990,583m
The biggest exports that the Dutch have to offer are refined petroleum, broadcasting equipment and packaged medicaments42. Natural gas is also significant, with its Groningen gas field being the largest in Europe.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its lax laws regarding recreational drugs, the Netherlands is also the biggest exporter of a category defined by the OEC as other live plants, cuttings and slips, mushroom spawn43.
20. Turkey – GDP: $853,487m
Turkey boasts a significant industrial sector and exports significant amounts of vehicles, gold and petroleum from its strong position on the doorstep of Europe and Asia44. However, high inflation and the collapsing value of Turkey’s lira have reportedly left as much as two-thirds of the population struggling to cover basic expenses45.
21. Taiwan – GDP: $828,659m
Taiwan has managed to flourish impressively despite existing just across the ocean from a Chinese government that sees it as a sworn enemy. Sabre rattling aside, Taiwan’s high-tech economy is best exemplified by chipmaker TSMC, which is billed as the world leader in this highly important sector46.
22. Switzerland – GDP: $807,418m
Switzerland is famed for its picturesque mountain views and solid financial institutions alike, with the latter having formed the foundations for the nation’s economy. Enormous banks like UBS and Credit Suisse call Zurich home, while the city also hosts other financial services giants like Zurich Insurance, Pictet and Swiss Re.
23. Poland – GDP: $716,305m
Despite being close to the front line of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland’s economy has held up relatively well. However, recent strong retail sales figures could be influenced by purchases of essentials by refugees47.
The nation’s resilient economy has managed to sidestep major economic hardships before too. Poland was the only EU economy to avoid recession in the Global Financial Crash of the late 2000s48.
24. Argentina – GDP: $630,698m
While Poland glories in its stability, the Argentine economy is quite the opposite. It’s prone to periods of chaos, and at the time of writing, its population is facing inflation that approaches 100% after years of declining value for the country’s currency49.
25. Sweden – GDP: $603,922m
Sweden boasts a high standard of living but equally high taxation for its population. The Scandinavian nation is a major exporter of cars and motor vehicle parts due to the presence of companies like Volvo and Scania50. Meanwhile, engineering and telecoms are other sources of international trade.
26. Belgium – GDP: $589,491m
Belgium benefits significantly from international trade, having good infrastructure to exploit its strong geographic location in the center of Western Europe. Of the top 30 economies in the world, Belgium has the second highest exports as a percentage of GDP, coming in with 86.9% and in ninth overall51.
The key goods exported by Belgium include chemicals, transport equipment, mineral products, machinery and electrical equipment52.
27. Thailand – GDP: $534,758m
The Thai economy is also highly reliant on exports, though not to the same extent as Belgium, with it comprising 58.2% of its GDP53.
Tourism is also a key industry, particularly as the world exits COVID-19-related travel restrictions, reportedly accounting for 18% of the Southeast Asian nation’s economy54.
28. Israel – GDP: $527,179m
Israel is a hotbed for start-ups, with the nation having developed 97 unicorns despite its low population of just 9 million55. Tech is a particularly strong sector, with industry giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft having a presence in the country.
29. Ireland – GDP: $519,776m
Beating previously mentioned Belgium’s already high rate of exports as a percentage of GDP is Ireland. The nation’s exports were 134% of GDP in 2021 and clearly highlight its thriving pharmaceutical industry56. Ireland's top exports in 2020 were vaccines, blood, antisera, toxins and cultures, packaged medicaments, and nitrogen heterocyclic compounds (a key ingredient for some pharmaceutical treatments)57.
The nation also has the fifth largest GDP per capita in the world, the highest among the top 30 nations by nominal GDP58.
30. Norway – GDP: $504,703m
What makes Norway’s economy unique is the nation’s relationship with its North Sea oil reserves. The sizeable reserves mean that the nation’s petroleum sector accounts for about 40% of exports and around 14% of GDP59.
Surplus revenues from the nation’s oil industry are deposited in the Government Pension Fund Global, which is worth more than $1trn and is invested in more than 9,000 companies around the world60. The listed purpose of the fund is to benefit current and future generations of Norwegians.
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