Total merchandise trade

Map 1. Merchandise exports as a ratio to gross domestic product, 2020

Decline in 2020, strong recovery in 2021

In 2020, the value of world merchandise trade decreased (by 7.4 per cent) for the second year after two consecutive years of growth. Global exports amounted to US$17.6 trillion, US$1.4 trillion less than the previous year reflecting the effects of COVID-19. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, exports value is nowcast to recover in 2021 and grow 22.4 per cent.

Global exports were distributed in almost equal shares between the ‘North’ and the ‘South’. In 2020, developing economies contributed US$8.1 trillion and developed economies US$9.5 trillion to the world total. Asia and Oceania accounted for 44 per cent of the world total in merchandise exports, followed by Europe with 38 per cent and America with 16 per cent. Africa remained underrepresented, capturing only 2 per cent of the world total.

Figure 1. World merchandise exports, quarterly
(Trillions of United States dollars)

Note: Seasonally adjusted series, the dotted line indicates UNCTAD nowcasts. For the methodology, see on the Calculation methods page. For UNCTAD’s nowcast bulletin, see -—
– ‒
- –
—-
-—
– ‒
- –
—-
-—
– ‒
- –
—-
-—
– ‒
- –
—-
.

Different exposures to the downswing in trade

Figure 2. Merchandise trade annual growth rates, 2020
(Percentage)

In 2020, merchandise exports and imports decreased considerably, between 4.4 and 19.3 per cent, in all groups of economies classified by development status.

Developing economies in Africa experienced a strong decline of exports and imports, 19.3 and 13.2 per cent, respectively, while developing economies in America saw their imports fall by 15.2 per cent and exports by 9.5 per cent.

Development of global trade imbalances

The relatively smaller loss in developing economies’ exports in 2020 was reflected in a considerable increase of their trade surplus, which had already grown continuously during the three previous years. Between 2018 and 2020, developing economies’ trade balance rose from +US$421 billion to +US$582 billion.

This development was mirrored by an increase of developed economies’ trade deficit between 2018 (-US$702 billion) and 2020 (-US$791 billion). In 2020, the developed world’s exports declined more than its imports.

Figure 3. Merchandise trade balance
(Billions of United States dollars)

Note: Trade balances do not add up to zero at world level due to CIF included in imports and cross-country differences in compilation methods.

Concepts and definitions

The figures on international merchandise trade in this chapter measure the value of goods which add or subtract from the stock of material resources of an economy by entering or leaving its territory -—
– ‒
- –
—-
-—
– ‒
- –
—-
-—
– ‒
- –
—-
-—
– ‒
- –
—-
. This definition is slightly different from the definition of trade in goods in the balance-of-payments framework (see Current account).

The value of exports is mostly recorded as the free-on-board (FOB) value, whereas the value of imports includes cost (for clearance), insurance and freight (CIF).

The trade balance is calculated as the difference between the values of exports and imports.

Merchandise trade figures from 2014 to 2020, at total product level with partner world, are jointly produced by UNCTAD and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Seasonal adjustments are based on UNCTAD secretariat calculations using X-13ARIMA-SEATS.

Summary tables

Table 1. Merchandise trade by group of economies
    Table 2. Merchandise trade of least developed countries, main exporters
      Table 3. Leading exporters and importers in developing economies, by group of economies, 2020
      Developing economies: Africa
          Developing economies: America
              Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

                  References

                    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
                    Donec tincidunt vel mauris a dignissim. Curabitur sodales nunc id vestibulum tempor. Nunc tortor orci, sodales nec eros eget.
                    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
                    Donec tincidunt vel mauris a dignissim. Curabitur sodales nunc id vestibulum tempor. Nunc tortor orci, sodales nec eros eget.
                    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
                    Donec tincidunt vel mauris a dignissim. Curabitur sodales nunc id vestibulum tempor. Nunc tortor orci, sodales nec eros eget.
                    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
                    Donec tincidunt vel mauris a dignissim. Curabitur sodales nunc id vestibulum tempor. Nunc tortor orci, sodales nec eros eget.
                    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
                    Donec tincidunt vel mauris a dignissim. Curabitur sodales nunc id vestibulum tempor. Nunc tortor orci, sodales nec eros eget.