Report Projects Further Trade Declines, Social and Economic Impacts Due to COVID-19
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A report by the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities and the UN Conference on Trade and Development, produced in partnership with 36 international organizations and national statistical offices, analyzes data on the economic, social, trade, and regional impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

The report finds that the pandemic is affecting 1.6 billion students and has caused a 10.5% drop in total working hours equivalent to 305 million full-time employees.

It projects a 27% quarter-on-quarter decline in global trade value and the pushing of an additional 40 million to 60 million people into extreme poverty.

The Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have released a report to help governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report notes that “no aspect of our lives is immune” to the virus, and emphasizes the importance of open, interoperable, and timely data to understand the pandemic’s severity and inform countries’ responses. 

Produced in cooperation with 36 international organizations and national statistical offices, the report titled, ‘How COVID-19 is Changing the World: A Statistical Perspective,’ summarizes COVID-19’s impacts with a focus on trade. The report directs readers to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Humanitarian Data Exchange platform, which brings together COVID-19 data from hundreds of partners, and highlights additional data sources throughout.

The report’s introduction underscores that the statistics presented “are unprecedented” and “unimaginable only a few months ago.” In terms of economic impacts, the report finds that COVID-19 cut global trade values by 3% in the first quarter of 2020. The decline is projected to accelerate, with an expected 27% quarter-on-quarter decline. The report also projects further decline in global manufacturing production, continuing 2019 trends of deceleration that had been spurred as a result of trade tensions between the US and China.

The recent and projected declines correlate with a drop in commodity prices. The report notes that UNCTAD’s Free Market Commodity Price Index (FMCPI), which tracks price movements of commodities exported by developing countries, went from losing 1.2% of its value in January 2020 to a reduction of more than 20% in March, driven largely by a precipitous decline in fuel prices, though mineral, ore, metal, food, and agricultural materials have also shown modest drops of up to 4%.

The report flags a triple burden of malnutrition due to pandemic-induced income shocks in low-income countries.

Other trends over the same time period include a 10.5% drop in total working hours – equivalent to 305 million full-time employees. At the human scale, the report highlights that the crisis will push an additional 40 million to 60 million people into extreme poverty. Social impacts include reversals of hard-won gains in areas of gender equality, education, and children’s well-being – including the affectation of over 1.6 billion students. In low-income countries (LICs), the report flags a “triple burden of malnutrition due to pandemic-induced income shocks, while disruptions to global supply chains and labor shortages pose uncertainties for agricultural production.”

Other uncertainties caused by travel restrictions reveal a disproportionate impact on displaced persons, migrants, and other vulnerable populations, making these groups some of “the first to confront the harsh impacts of this crisis.” Data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show that air travel reductions and border closures have “caused global mobility to come to a near standstill,” the report notes.

Looking at daily confirmed COVID-19 cases by region, the report underscores that geographies have not been equally affected. In addition to the fact that over 90% of reported cases are in urban areas, the report notes that although infections seem to have peaked in several countries or regions, they continue to rise in others, and that a second wave in some places is already being observed. As a whole, the report finds that developing countries are less equipped to use information and communication technologies (ICT) to minimize the disruption caused by COVID-19, compounding inequalities within and between countries.

The report emphasizes that the data and forecasts draw on a variety of sources, and, consequently, are changing rapidly. To keep pace with shifting contexts and continue to inform the international community, UNCTAD will release a “monthly trade nowcast” that will also include quarterly forecasts for merchandise trade. In terms of impacts to the statistical community however, the report notes that lockdowns and other virus containment measures threaten data production and countries’ statistical capacities.

It is the CCSA’s hope that the report contributes to the “common cause for common sense and facts” that UN Secretary-General António Guterres notes is needed in order to “defeat COVID-19 – and build a healthier, more equitable, just and resilient world.” [Publication: How COVID-19 is Changing the World: A Statistical Perspective] [UNCTAD Press Release]

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