Global trade shrank by nine per cent in 2020 despite a late-year revival led by East Asia, according to estimates published on Wednesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
UNCTAD said the recovery was “uneven,” with eight-per-cent fourth quarter growth in global merchandise or goods trade but stagnation in services.
While international commerce was “greatly affected” by “economic and social disruptions brought about by COVID-19,” East Asia registered “gains in global market share” after being able to “better weather the challenges of the pandemic,” according to the UN trade body.
The fourth quarter saw goods exports in China, where the novel coronavirus pandemic originated, up 17 per cent, with Japan registering three-per-cent and South Korea four-per-cent gains.
China’s economy grew by 2.3 per cent last year, with a 6.5-per-cent final quarter expansion helping to offset losses incurred during the early stages of the pandemic.
UNCTAD said that while goods trade grew throughout the second half of 2020, services trade continued “to lag substantially” due to “continued disruptions” in travel.
Global goods trade fell by six per cent overall in 2020, a sharp decline that was nonetheless 10.5 percentage points better than the services collapse.
During the final quarter, as winter waves of coronavirus infection swept Europe and North America, prompting further restrictions, U.S. services exports fell by 26 per cent and the European Union’s (EU) by 14, while China’s grew by two per cent.
Goods exports from the U.S. fell by five per cent, though the EU registered three-per-cent growth, in part due to increased demand for pharmaceuticals.