Globalization and International Value Chains: 2000-2021



Guy F. Erb, Scott Sommers

The disruptions in international supply chains that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalation of economic and political tensions between the U.S. and China have given rise to claims that globalization has died or is at least moribund. In this note we will address three questions concerning the evolution of globalization from 2000 through 2021:

1. Did globalization decline during that period?
2. To what extent did North America and China decouple their supply chains?
3. Did regionalization (“nearshoring”) increase?

In its broadest sense, the term “globalization” captures the interaction of national economies through the movement of people, ideas, capital, technology, goods, and services. Globalization so defined has already crossed a threshold from which it will likely never return, barring a global conflict or a failure to respond adequately to climate change. Indeed, individuals across the world today are more connected than ever before. Consider, for example, that almost two-thirds of the world’s population owns a smartphone, or that the estimated number of international tourists in 2023 exceeds 1 billion. Such human interconnectivity will only increase over time as communication and transportation-related technologies continue to advance. There has also been rapid growth in services trade, and especially in intermediate services.1 When observed through this broad lens, globalization remains deeply rooted and change is one of its enduring characteristics.

Among the many facets of globalization, our focus is on international trade, and on global value chains (GVCs) in particular. The volume of trade flows in goods and services has withstood significant challenges in the past, and stands to do the same in the future, even as patterns of trade flows change. Already, many of the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased geopolitical tensions have been met with creative workarounds, demonstrating the resilience of international trade and global supply networks. Changes in the patterns of cross-border trade in goods and services do not indicate a decline in globalization. Our quantitative analysis provides strong evidence that value-added trade supporting the production of goods and services did not recede during 2000-2021, nor was there evidence of a global trend toward reshoring. Instead, the evidence suggests that 2021 was a high mark for the global exchange of goods and services as measured by international value-added production linkages. Regarding the question of whether there has been a decoupling between North America and China, our analysis finds no evidence of decoupling of value-added production linkages. In fact, we find that China and North America increased their value-added production linkages between 2017 and 2021, implying significantly greater linkages than those that could be estimated using gross trade statistics.

Our analysis utilizes the GVC Indicators database created by the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing. The GVC Indicators database breaks down value added into that which flows through GVCs, and that which does not.2 See the appendix for a description of the data and methodology. In the charts that follow, the term “forward GVC participation” captures the degree to which a country’s domestic value added is exported through global value chains. “Backward GVC participation” captures the extent to which a country’s final production includes value added that is imported from global value chains. For each measurement, a higher percentage indicates greater relative importance of value added that is imported or exported through GVCs compared to value added sourced domestically. Thus, higher levels of backward and forward GVC participation indicate greater global integration of production networks.

We concentrate on the world’s three major trading entities: China, the European Union (EU), and North America, defined as the three nations in the USMCA (Canada, Mexico, and the United States). Our calculations for the EU in all years include GVC activity for the 27 member countries as of 2021, and therefore exclude the United Kingdom. Value added originating from China, the EU, and North America accounted for 54% of worldwide value added involved in GVCs in 2021, and final production by the three entities accounted for 57% of GVC-involved final production. Other significant GVC trading nations in 2021 which are not included in our main analysis include India, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom.3 In our analysis, we address reshoring within North America and the EU while considering how each bloc’s linkages with China have evolved over time.

To read the full paper, see below. 

Globalization and International Value Chains - Erb Sommers

Guy Erb is a former U.S. trade policy official and investment banker.
Scott Sommers is a PhD student in Economics at the University of Minnesota.

To read the full paper, please click here.