December 3, 2021

COVID-19 drives the largest global trade decline since 2009 – UNCTAD

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The value of global merchandise trade is projected to decline by 5.6% in 2020 compared with last year, which is set to become the biggest fall in merchandise trade since 2009 when trade fell by 22%, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in a recent update to the global trade forecast for the year.

However, it noted that the latest projection is a significantly more

The predicted decline in services trade is much greater, with services likely to fall by 15.4% in 2020 compared with 2019. This would be the biggest decline in services trade since 1990 when this series began. In 2009, following the global financial crisis, services trade fell by 9.5%.

UNCTAD’s quarterly International Trade in Services Bulletin, which contains the latest detailed information, shows that this plunge has been driven by a considerable decline in travel, transport and tourism activity.

The handbook usually presents a wide variety of statistics relevant to international trade and development for the preceding year and has recently included nowcasts to anticipate the figures for the year of publication.

The coronavirus pandemic however transformed business as usual in 2020, increasing demand for up-to-date figures on the economic impacts while also impacting statistical modeling.

“Unlike previous years however, the models that nowcast international trade and GDP had to grapple with some of the most unusual circumstances in living memory,” said UNCTAD’s chief statistician, Steve MacFeely.

“So much so, the existing models broke down under the strain and had to be redesigned and rebuilt during the year.”

The nowcast figures are telling however and paint a picture of the schism that happened in trade in both goods and services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with the figures still trending downwards at time of publication (see figure).

“While the handbook maps and presents the situation for global trade in merchandise and services, maritime, population, and other economic trends in 2019, there is a more pressing need to nowcast for the economic impacts of the pandemic,” he said.

Given the increased importance of timely data as a result of the COVID-19 economic fallout, the handbook has been supplemented by quarterly trade nowcasts.

optimistic nowcast than only a few weeks ago when UNCTAD estimated a fall of 9%.

The nowcasts – data-led projections for the immediate future – were published today as part of UNCTAD’s comprehensive annual Handbook of Statistics for 2020, which presents the statistical landscape for 2019 with nowcasts for 2020.

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