The global recession due to COVID-19 may be still with us, but trade is picking up quickly. That’s according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which released data May 19 on global trade, which it found has already returned to pre-pandemic levels.
The UNCTD report found that global trade increased by 10% on a year-over-year basis and 4% from the last quarter of 2020, mainly driven by exports from East Asian economies. Trade in goods has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels, though trade in services still has a ways to go to catch up.
The trade recovery has been broad, covering most sectors, but minerals, office equipment, and communication equipment notably each saw trade increase by more than 35% each relative to 2020. An outlier compared to other sectors, international trade in transportation equipment declined by almost 20%; the only other sector to see a trade decrease was in energy, which saw trade fall 5%.
Trade growth in 2021 will be driven by China and the U.S., the report predicted, and the data presented bears that perspective out. The data shows the U.S. exported 16% more goods and imported 14% more in the first quarter of 2021 than its 2020 average, while Chinese goods exports rose 20% while its imports climbed 22%. Services imports and exports grew for both countries: Services imports rose 10% in the U.S. and 3% in China, while services exports were up 3% in the U.S. and 27% in China, also relative to the respective countries’ 2020 averages.
From a longer perspective, though, Chinese goods export growth is beating the U.S. First-quarter 2021 U.S. exports of goods were flat relative to its 2019 average while goods imports were up 7%. Imports and exports of services in the U.S. were both down, 14% and 18% respectively. By contrast, China exported 25% and imported 20% more goods than its 2019 average, and exported 22% more services as well. Chinese services imports fell 23%.
Additionally, trade appears to be improving faster for developing countries by contrast with developed countries. By the UNCTD’s reckoning, developing countries saw exports rise 22% and imports rise 18%, while developed countries like the U.S., China and Russia collectively saw exports climb about 7% and imports rise 12%. Developing countries in East Asia are performing particularly well, the report found.