UNCTAD - Global Trade Update February 2021

UNCTAD - Global Trade Update February 2021

09.02.2021: East Asia manufacturing leading the global trade recovery. The recovery has been uneven, with many countries lagging. South-South trade remains well below average but for East Asia. East Asian economies have been leading the recovery process with s

East Asia manufacturing leading the global trade recovery.

The recovery has been uneven, with many countries lagging. South-South trade remains well below average but for East Asia. East Asian economies have been leading the recovery process with strong export growth and gains in global market share.

Most manufacturing sectors recorded positive trade growth in Q4. The main exceptions are the energy and transportation sectors. Led by trade in goods, global trade recovered in Q4, reducing its overall decline in 2020 to about 9%. Trade in services continues to lag.

Source: UNCTAD calculations based on national statistics. Estimates are based on changes between 2019 and 2020. The statistics for the groups are cumulative.

The economic and social disruptions brought about by COVID-19 greatly affected global trade during 2020. Overall, world trade recorded a drop in value of about 9 per cent in 2020, with trade in goods declining by about 6 per cent and trade in services decreasing by about 16.5 per cent.

The effect of COVID-19 on global trade was most severe during the first half of 2020 with a drop in value of about
15 per cent. Global trade began to recover in Q3 2020 and more strongly in Q4 2020. The recovery in the second half of 2020 was largely due to the rebound of trade in goods. Trade in services continues to lag substantially below averages.

In Q4 2020 global trade in goods grew by about 8 per cent on a quarter-over-quarter basis while trade in services
stagnated at Q3 2020 levels.

World trade in goods recovers in the second half of 2020, but trade in service lags

The projections for Q1 2021 indicate a slowdown in the recovery of trade in goods (a 1.5 per cent drop relative to Q4 2020) and a further decline for trade in services (a 7 per cent drop relative to Q4 2020), largely because of continued disruptions in the travel sector. However, projections remain imprecise due to persisting concerns about COVID-19 and uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of stimulus packages in some major economies.

Trade trends for the major economies

Import and export trends for some of the world’s major trading economies further illustrate how trade patterns changed during 2020. In the first half of 2020, all major economies experienced significant downturns in both imports and exports of goods, with even heavier declines in the trade of services.

Although improvements have been seen from lows earlier in the year, the value of trade remained lower for nearly all major economies in the third quarter of 2020 than in the same quarter of the previous year.

Growth of around 3 per cent in Chinese goods exports was the exception to this trend. In the fourth quarter of 2020, while trade in goods ameliorated substantially across many major economies, trade in services, in contrast, remained below averages.

Notably, exports of services from China, and to a lesser extent India, appear to have fared relatively better than other major economies throughout 2020.

Imports and exports of major trading economies in 2020
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on national statistics.
Note: Year-over-year growth rates, in US$. * denotes estimates.

Regional trade trends

The trade recovery of Q4 2020 is largely due to developing countries. The trade of goods from and to developing countries has recovered more strongly relative to developed countries, especially in relation to exports.

However, the positive trade growth of developing countries in Q4 2020 vanishes once East Asian economies are excluded. The importance of East Asian economies in explaining the recovery in the trade of developing countries is even more marked when considering trade among developing countries (South-South trade).

 While South-South trade has outperformed global trade, excluding trade of East Asian developing economies results in South-South trade to significantly drop, even for Q4 2020.

Developed and Developing countries’ trade recovery shows different patterns The trade recovery of Q4 2020 has been very different across geographic regions.

On a year-over-year basis, trade in goods originating from the East Asian region grew about 12 per cent in Q4 2020, with goods imports increased by about 5 per cent. In contrast, in Q4 2020 negative trends remained for goods exports originating from most other regions.

Source: UNCTAD estimates based on national statistics.
Note: Changes are year-over year. Data excludes intra-EU trade. Data does not include trade in services. Q4 statistics are preliminary.

The designations employed and the presentation of material on any map in this work do not imply the expression of
any opinion whatsoever on the part of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory,
city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

Global trade trends at the sectoral level

The trade recovery of the second half of 2020 has encompassed most sectors of goods, with the exception of the energy and transport equipment sectors.

The value of trade in these two sectors was still about one-third lower in the second half of 2020 relative to the same period of 2019.

Notably, while the trade recovery in Q3 2020 was largely driven by sectors related to goods for which demand has increased because of COVID-19, i.e. textiles (including personal protective equipment) and (home) office equipment, the recovery has been much more broad-based in Q4 2020, with trade in most sectors recording positive growth.

A broad based trade recovery for Q4 2020

Source: UNCTAD calculations based on national statistics. Note: Percentage changes in world trade are year-over-year. Changes are estimated from HS6 digits data of China, European Union, and United States. Data excludes intra-EU trade.

Export competitiveness during COVID-19

COVID-19 is having profound impacts not only on the global demand but also on the relative competitiveness of countries.

While exports have declined for most countries, some countries have gained in terms of global market share as their
economies were able to better weather the challenges of the pandemic. The fall in global demand brought by COVID-19
has forced least competitive suppliers out of global markets, while enabling the most competitive suppliers to thrive during the recovery process.

Although it is too early to fully assess the implication of COVID-19 on export competitiveness, the table below provides an indication of how the exports of some major economies have performed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The table reports an overall export performance index, which considers not only raw export growth but also market share, composition of the export basket and the export performance of direct competitors.

The table also reports the export volatility experienced by these economies during COVID-19. More volatile exports are an indication of export vulnerability, especially when accompanied by low export performance.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, VietNam, Uganda, China, Switzerland, Turkey and Taiwan, Province of China have
experienced relatively better export performance In contrast, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, and Nigeria performed relatively worse.

COVID-19 has profoundly affected international trade because its effects have been very diverse across economic sectors.

The competitiveness of countries has changed across sectors, with some economies gaining market share in some sectors while losing competitiveness in others.

Export volatility is measured by the variance of export performance during the period. The indices consider only trade in goods.

Trade growth and competitiveness across sectors during COVID-19

As an example, during the COVID-19 pandemic China was able to capture markets share in many sectors including in some of the most negatively affected sectors (transport equipment and road vehicles).

However, China’s export competitiveness eroded in some of the sectors exhibiting an increase in trade during COVID-19 (e.g. communication equipment and office machinery). VietNam, Thailand and Taiwan, Province of China have been relatively better able to capture the additional demand in these sectors.

Source: UNCTAD estimations based on national statistics of China, the European Union and the United States of America.

Note: Competitiveness is measured by the change in market share between 2019 and 2020. No change is within 0.25% percentage points and economies listed in color recorded changes in market share larger than 1 percentage point.


- UNCTAD Geneva also photos

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09.02.2021 / MaP

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