Gold, Frankincense, and Coffee? Top Ten Import/Export Goods w/ Pics

 In export, import, International Shipping

“And low, wise men came from the East, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and coffee.”  Ok, ok, the wise men did not bring gifts of coffee to the Newborn King. They brought gifts that were highly valued commodities in the 1st Century – gold, frankincense, and myrrh![1] (Coffee hadn’t really caught on yet as an international beverage.)[2]

With Christmas drawing nigh, I began to think about those first gifts and how we today perceive the highly valued commodities of 1st Century Palestine: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The first one, gold, has staying power. We all know about gold, think of it as valuable, and most of us own something made of (or to be honest, thinly coated with) gold.

What about the other two, frankincense and myrrh? Yeah, not so much. When was the last time you stopped by the store to pick up some aromatic resins?

While at first glance gold seems to be the only gift of the three we can relate to, upon further reflection there is one other important connection between the gifts of the Magi and the gifts we are likely to tuck under the Christmas tree this year. Are you ready?

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not native to Palestine.[3] They were brought there, traded, most likely over long distances. Most of the Christmas gifts we purchase are also not produced near where we live. In fact, it’s a good chance that they will be made from products that originate far from home.

This is because we live in a world of global commerce, the roots of which lay in the ancient trade routes connecting the various empires of the past. The Roman Empire for example developed sophisticated trade relationships with suppliers in the Near and Far East.[4]

Painstakingly transported over sea and over land, trade commodities like purple dye made from murex snails, silks and spices were imported from east to west to satisfy the appetites of Imperial Rome and her colonies across the Mediterranean basin.[5]

Today commodities also tend to flow east-to-west but from even further afield. China and other nations on the Pacific Rim are the source of much of what is imported to the western hemisphere today.

All this reflection on ancient trade goods led me to the question: Which products are being traded the most today?

So below is a “top ten” list of the most internationally traded goods plying the high seas today. [6]

If you’re an international shipper, perhaps you’ll see something on this list that you import or export.

If you’re thinking of going into international business, you may be thinking that this list is a good place to start in deciding the products you should import or export. However, I would suggest choosing a product you are passionate about rather than a good that is highly traded for starting your import/export business.

For more on becoming a successful international shipper, click here.

Some of the top commodities on this list will not surprise you, but some may.

10. Cotton


9. Wheat


8. Corn


7. Sugar


6. Silver


5. Brent Oil

Brent Oil

4. Gold


3. Natural Gas

Natural Gas

2. Coffee


1. Crude Oil

Oil Pump


[1] Matthew 2:11

[2] Pomeranz and Topik, “The World That Trade Created”, 2006, p. 81.  Pomeranz notes that coffee as a beverage really was invented around 1400 in the city of Mokka on the Arabian Peninsula and took off in the 1500s throughout the Near East.

[3] Freedman, “Out of the East”, p. 89. Frankincense is native to the mountains of what is today Yemen while myrrh is found in rocky soil in the Horn of Africa as well as the Arabian Peninsula.  Gold too was mined further east, in the Arabian Peninsula and Northern Africa.

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