The UN Conference on Trade and Development released two annual publications on key statistics and trends observed in international trade and trade policy, respectively.
Although COVID-19 severely disrupted the world economy, UNCTAD notes that trade tensions between the US and China, fears over Brexit, and a negative global output outlook each contributed to a widespread trade downturn in 2019 that preceded the pandemic.
UNCTAD’s analysis of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in the Asia-Pacific region finds that RCEP economies represent approximately 30% of global GDP, and that intra-RCEP trade sums to 40% of members’ total trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released two annual publications on key statistics and trends observed in the previous calendar year. Each report is part of a larger effort by UNCTAD to analyze trade-related issues of particular importance to developing countries.
The report titled, ‘Key Statistics and Trends in International Trade 2020: Trade Trends Under the COVID-19 Pandemic,’ highlights that although COVID-19 “severely disrupted the world economy,” economic conditions were deteriorating prior to the outbreak. UNCTAD notes that trade tensions between the US and China, fears over a “disorderly Brexit” in Europe, and a negative global output outlook each contributed to a widespread trade downturn in 2019 that preceded the pandemic.
UNCTAD projects the value of international trade to decline by 8% in 2020, reinforcing a pattern of volatility observed over the past decade. The ratio of international trade to global output is expected to be approximately 25%, down from a peak of 30% in 2008, indicating that the global economy is becoming less dependent on trade. In 2019, trade in goods was valued at USD 19 trillion and trade in services at USD 6 trillion, for a total value of USD 25 trillion.
The report presents regional and country-level import and export trends, and trade indicators to illustrate performance and estimate international trade in goods and services over the past 10-15 years. In 2019 specifically, UNCTAD finds that in developing countries, gross domestic product (GDP) is more heavily dependent on goods and services exported to foreign markets. Country-specific indicators are available for trade balances, commodity export dependence, (changes in) export diversification, export performance and competitiveness, and export sophistication, among others.
The second report is titled, ‘Key Statistics and Trends in Trade Policy 2020: The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.’ It focuses on tariffs, trade agreements, non-tariff measures (NTMs), and trade defense measures. UNCTAD finds that tariffs have remained stable in recent years, with the exception of increases in bilateral tariffs taken by the US and China.
Data on non-tariff measures are fragmented, and do not enable the computation of comparative statistics across countries.
While trade costs directly related to tariffs stood at approximately 2% for developed countries, the report notes that the figure doubles for developing countries, currently standing at 4%. Accordingly, tariff restrictiveness is substantial in many developing countries, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The report calls out that low average tariffs can mask differences across economic categories and product sectors of importance to countries in these regions, such as agriculture, apparel, textiles, and leather products. UNCTAD flags that although tariffs overall “have somewhat declined” since 2010, they remain substantial in South-South trade.
Non-tariff measures such as technical requirements, sanitary measures, and border measures also contribute substantially to trade costs. While the report underscores that data on non-tariff measures are fragmented and do not enable the computation of comparative statistics across countries, UNCTAD emphasizes that, on average, compliance costs associated with these measures are generally higher than those of tariffs. Other non-tariff measures include price and quantity controls.
The report’s analysis of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a plurilateral trade agreement between fifteen countries in the Asia-Pacific region, finds that RCEP economies represent approximately 30% of global GDP, with China comprising nearly half that amount. Intra-RCEP trade sums to 40% of members’ total trade, though UNCTAD notes that smaller countries in the bloc are more reliant on RCEP members. The RCEP was signed in November 2020, and is expected to enter into force in January 2022.
UNCTAD notes that preferential trade agreements (PTAs) are also emerging as a means of regulating the international trading system. In 2019, more than half of world trade took place between countries that had signed a PTA. [Publication: Key Statistics and Trends in International Trade 2020: Trade Trends Under the COVID-19 Pandemic] [Publication: Key Statistics and Trends in Trade Policy 2020: The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership]