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Source: Small Island Developing States

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) 2020 Handbook of Statistics shows that COVID-19 has contributed to significant declines in international trade, with services trade experiencing a drop not seen since 1990. The handbook provides a range of statistics and indicators on international trade in merchandise and services, investment, population, maritime transport, and development.

This year’s online edition adds new interactive charts and maps, enabling increased visibility of small territories and allowing for user customization.

The handbook notes that the total value of world services exports in 2019 was valued at USD 6.1 trillion, after a “modest” 1.9% rise. Prior to COVID-19, between 2014 and 2019, all main service categories exports – transport; travel; insurance, financial, intellectual property, and other business services; telecommunications, computer, and information; and “other” categories – were increasing, with telecommunications experiencing the highest growth rates. However, in the wake of the pandemic, trade in services is likely to fall by 15.4% in 2020 compared with 2019, the handbook projects.

A UNCTAD press release emphasizes the scale of the decline, flagging that it represents the largest drop in services trade since 1990, when the series began. Year-on-year, the handbook notes in a “nowcast” – UNCTAD’s data-led projections for the immediate future in response to increased demands for up-to-date statistics in light of the pandemic – that a 19.9% decline of services trade is expected this quarter relative to the third quarter of 2019. The plunge has been driven by sharp declines in travel, transport, and tourism activity, UNCTAD finds.

On international merchandise trade, the handbook’s nowcast for the third quarter of 2020 shows that merchandise exports are down 11.9% relative to the third quarter of 2019. After a steep drop in the first two quarters of 2020 due to COVID-19, the handbook notes the beginnings of recovery. The US and China represent the largest share of bilateral flows of merchandise trade, but regional trade remains popular. The handbook shows that approximately 60% of Asia’s merchandise trade takes place within the region, and nearly 70% of Europe’s exports were intra-regional in 2019.

In an unrelated news release on data from the third quarter of 2020, the World Trade Organization (WTO) makes a similar observation on a trade rebound. The WTO finds that the third quarter of 2020 saw a partial recovery of world trade in manufactured goods, mostly in electronics, textiles, and automotive products. Services trade remains severely depressed, the WTO finds, despite having appeared “to have bottomed out” mid-year.

Other key statistics noted in the handbook include maritime transport and population. The handbook shows that total seaborne trade volume was 11.1 billion tons in 2019, and that commercial fleet capacity grew by 4.1%. The world’s total population now stands at 7.7 billion people, growing at 1.1% per year.

Classifications and calculation methods for the handbook’s statistics are available in an annex. [Publication: UNCTAD Handbook on Statistics 2020] [Publication Landing Page] [e-Handbook of Statistics 2020] [UNCTAD Press Release] [WTO News Release]

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