This paper investigates, by means of recurrence quantification analysis, the characteristics of trade cycles and economic development. Trade cycles are complex phenomena oscillating because of economic downturns and expansions. In this paper the features of the underlying dynamics are studied over an extensive dataset e.g. Levy and Chen, OECD, BEA, etc. It is shown that recurrence quantification analysis can be suitably applied to economics and, therefore, may help in anticipating transitions from laminar (i.e. regular) to turbulent (i.e. chaotic) phases such as USA GDP in 1949, 1953, etc. Moreover, recurrence quantification analysis detects differences between macroeconomic variables, and highlights hidden features of economic dynamics.