Global trade hits record high, increasing by 10% despite coronavirus: UNCTAD

Doaa A.Moneim , Wednesday 19 May 2021

The rebound in 1Q 2021 is driven by the strong export performance of East Asian economies, the report stated


The rate of recovery of global trade from the COVID-19 crisis hit a record high in the first quarter (1Q) of 2021, inching up by 10 percent year-on-year and four percent quarter-on-quarter, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) stated.

In its updated report on global trade released on Wednesday, UNCTAD said that the impressive rebound in 1Q 2021 continued to be driven by the strong export performance of East Asian economies, whose early success in pandemic mitigation allowed them to rebound faster and to bank on booming global demand for COVID-19 related products.

“In 1Q 2021 trade continued to rebound not only in sectors related to COVID-19, such as pharmaceuticals, communication, and office equipment, but also other sectors like minerals and agrifood,” said the report.

In contrast, the energy sector continued to lag behind and international trade in transport equipment remained well below average rates.

The value of global trade in goods was higher than pre-pandemic level, while trade in services remains substantially below average, according to the report.

Meanwhile, import and export trends for some of the world’s major trading economies show that trade in major economies recovered from the fall of 2020.

China, India and South Africa trade performed relatively better than other major economies during 1Q 2021, stated the report.

It stressed that global trade recovery remains uneven, especially among developing countries, with exports from East Asia rebounding substantially faster.

It also showed that the value of exports remained below averages in 1Q 2021 for countries with economies in transition, including the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

Furthermore, the value of merchandise imports and exports of developing countries in 1Q 2021 increased by about 16 percent, compared with the same quarter of 2020.

Going forward, the report expected global trade to continue to grow in 2021 and to remain strong in the second half of the year, particularly in East Asia and developed countries, and to lag in many other countries.

The report projected a 16 percent growth in global trade in 2021, from the lowest point of 2020 – 19 percent for goods and eight percent for services.

It also expected the value of global trade in goods and services to post $6.6 trillion in 2Q 202, equivalent to a year-on-year increase of about 31 percent relative to the lowest point of 2020 and of about three percent relative to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.


“Yet the positive outlook is largely dependent on reducing pandemic restrictions, a persisting positive trend in commodity prices, overall restraints from trade protectionist policies, and supportive macroeconomic and fiscal conditions," said the report.

In addition, fiscal stimulus packages, particularly in developed countries, are expected to strongly support global trade recovery throughout 2021, the report continued.

It added that the shape of trade patterns throughout 2021 remains unclear amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

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