World trade is expected to fall by between 13% and 32% in 2020 as the COVID 19 pandemic disrupts normal economic activity and life around the world. The wide range of possibilities for the predicted decline is explained by the unprecedented nature of this health crisis and the uncertainty around its precise economic impact. But WTO economists believe the decline will likely exceed the trade slump brought on by the global financial crisis of 2008‑09.
Estimates of the expected recovery in 2021 are equally uncertain, with outcomes depending largely on the duration of the outbreak and the effectiveness of the policy responses.
“This crisis is first and foremost a health crisis which has forced governments to take unprecedented measures to protect people’s lives,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said. “The unavoidable declines in trade and output will have painful consequences for households and businesses, on top of the human suffering caused by the disease itself.” “The immediate goal is to bring the pandemic under control and mitigate the economic damage to people, companies and countries. But policymakers must start planning for the aftermath of the pandemic,” he said.
“These numbers are ugly – there is no getting around that. But a rapid, vigorous rebound is possible. Decisions taken now will determine the future shape of the recovery and global growth prospects. We need to lay the foundations for a strong, sustained and socially inclusive recovery. Trade will be an important ingredient here, along with fiscal and monetary policy. Keeping markets open and predictable, as well as fostering a more generally favourable business environment, will be critical to spur the renewed investment we will need. And if countries work together, we will see a much faster recovery than if each country acts alone.”
Trade was already slowing in 2019 before the virus struck, weighed down by trade tensions and slowing economic growth. World merchandise trade registered a slight decline for the year of ‑0.1% in volume terms after rising by 2.9% in the previous year. Meanwhile, the dollar value of world merchandise exports in 2019 fell by 3% to US$ 18.89 trillion.
In apparel, WTO economists’ preliminary estimates show the export value stagnated in 2019, with nearly zero growth from the $494 billion notched in 2018. In 2019, WTO data show, China, the world’s largest exporter of apparel, reported a decline of 4 per cent to $151.5 billion. China’s apparel exports (according to customs data) were down about 20 percent year-on-year in the first two months of 2020, the WTO said. Neighboring Vietnam reported a $30.8 billion rise of 9 per cent in 2019.In contrast, world commercial services trade increased in 2019, with exports in dollar terms rising by 2% to US$ 6.03 trillion. The pace of expansion was slower than in 2018, when services trade increased by 9%.