“The recovery process has been uneven, with many countries lagging”, said UNCTAD economist Alessandro Nicita.
According to a new report from the agency, exports from East Asia grew about 12 per cent in the last quarter of 2020, while imports increased by around five per cent.
These results followed growth of around three per cent in Chinese exports in the third quarter of the year compared with the same period in 2019, which was “the exception” to an overall downturn in nearly all major economies.
Negative trends the norm
In contrast to the market share gains for China and East Asian economies, most other regions saw continuing “negative trends”, UNCTAD said in its latest Global Trade Update.
These included Brazil – whose fourth quarter 2020 goods and services exports were down four per cent and 17 per cent respectively – Russia (19 per cent, 34 per cent), India (five per cent, eight per cent) and the United States (five per cent, 26 per cent).
By contrast, China saw a 17 per cent boost to exports in goods and a two per cent increase in services exports. South Africa also saw a 15 per cent rise in goods shipped abroad (with a 64 per cent drop in services exports) while both Japan and the European Union saw a three per cent increase in goods exports (and a 20 per cent and 14 per cent drop in services exports, respectively).
Generally, trade among countries in the Global South remained “well below average”, except for East Asian economies, UNCTAD said.
Energy and transport trailing
The UN analysts also noted that although most manufacturing sectors recorded positive trade growth in the last quarter of 2020, the main exceptions were the energy and transport sectors, linked to travel restrictions.
In terms of the global trade values, COVID-19 caused a drop of about nine per cent in 2020, UNCTAD found, with goods commerce down by about six per cent and services tumbling more than 16 per cent.
The UN agency explained that trade began to rebound in the third and particularly the fourth quarter of 2020, albeit not in services, which stagnated at the level they reached at the end of the third quarter.
Tentative projections for 2021 indicate a slowing recovery in goods exports (1.5 down on the last quarter of 2020) and a further decline in services (of a full seven per cent compared with the last quarter of 2020), largely because of continued disruptions in the travel sector.