International trade moves billions of euros annually and is one of the key mechanisms in the process of globalization. Its representation as a network of nodes and connections, where nodes are countries and the connections between them correspond to import and export relationships, reveals a complex architecture characterized by typical features of complex networks in different domains. Although the famous gravity model of trade reproduces flows well, it is unable to predict the existence of connections and, therefore, to explain the complex structure of the international trade network
In our work, we combine economic size and the different dimensions that affect distance in international trade beyond mere geography to produce the World Trade Atlas 1870-2013, a collection of annual world trade maps. Trade distances in these maps, based on a gravity model predicting the existence of significant trade channels, are such that the closer countries are in the hyperbolic trade space, the greater their chance of becoming connected. The atlas provides us with information regarding the long-term evolution of the international trade system and demonstrates that, in terms of trade, the world is not flat but hyperbolic, as a reflection of its complex architecture. The departure from flatness has been increasing since World War I, meaning that differences in trade distances are growing and trade networks are becoming more hierarchical. Smaller-scale economies are moving away from other countries except for the largest economies; meanwhile those large economies are increasing their chances of becoming connected worldwide. At the same time, Preferential Trade Agreements do not fit in perfectly with natural communities within the trade space and have not necessarily reduced internal trade barriers. We discuss an interpretation in terms of globalization, hierarchization, and localization; three simultaneous forces that shape the international trade system.