Global Trade Update



United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

How are some of the world’s major economies faring?

Official statistics for some of the world’s major trading economies further indicate the extent of the downturn in international trade caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During 2020, none of the major economies has been spared.

China’s trade patterns have diverged from other economies. After falling in the early months of the pandemic, Chinese exports stabilized in Q2 2020 and rebounded strongly in Q3 2020, with year-over-year growth rates of almost 10 per cent. Overall, the level of Chinese exports for the first nine months of 2020 was comparable to that of 2019 over the same period. On the import side, the Chinese demand for imported products recovered following a decline in Q2 2020. Contrary to other major economies, Chinese imports stabilized in July and August then grew substantially in September.

Regional trade trends

The sharp and widespread decline in international trade in Q2 2020 has been similar for developing and developed countries. However, trade in developed countries appears to have fallen marginally faster, both in relation to imports and exports. Trade among developing countries (South-South) has been relatively more resilient with a decline of about 16 per cent in Q2 followed by a decline by 8 per cent in July.

No region has been spared from the decline in international trade in Q2 2020. However, trade in East Asia appears to have fared relatively better than in other regions. This trend is even more evident for the month of July. On the other hand, the sharpest decline has been for the West and South Asia region, where imports have dropped by 35 per cent, and exports by 41 per cent. As of July, the fall in trade remains significant in most regions.

Global trade at the sectoral level

Economic disruptions brought about by COVID-19 have affected some sectors significantly more than others. In Q2 2020, the value of global trade in the automotive and energy sectors was about half of what it was in Q2 2019. Trade also declined significantly in chemicals, machineries, metals and ores, and precision instruments. On the other hand, imports increased in office machinery and textiles and apparel. Such increases are linked to the COVID-19 pandemic as these sectors include home office equipment and protective equipment such as masks.

The data for July and August 2020 indicates similar patterns. The value of international trade in the energy and in the automotive sectors was still substantially below its levels of 2019. On the other hand, increases in demand of home office equipment and personal protective gear resulted in positive growth rates for trade in the communication equipment, office machineries, and textiles and apparel sectors.

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