Total trade in services

Map 1. Exports of services as a ratio to gross domestic product, 2020

Heavily hit in 2020, recovering in 2021

After the pandemic-driven decline of 20 per cent in 2020, world services exports have been on a recovery path over the first six months of 2021. Growth of 23 per cent year-on-year is nowcast for the third quarter of 2021, and 13.6 per cent growth is nowcast for the whole of 2021 compared with 2020.

In 2020, global services exports were valued at US$5 trillion, representing 5.9 per cent of world GDP and 22.6 per cent of total world trade in both goods and services. Given the weaker resilience of services trade – travel in particular – to the pandemic conditions, exports of services lost more ground than goods’ exports in 2020. Yet, in more than a third of the world’s economies, services exports’ share in GDP surpassed 10 per cent. Luxembourg and Malta recorded services exports higher than 100 per cent of their GDP. Many small island states, for which international tourism is important, saw their services exports, and their contribution to GDP, drop considerably in 2020.

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

Source: Seasonally adjusted series, the dotted line indicates UNCTAD nowcasts. For the methodology, see the Calculation methods page. For UNCTAD’s nowcast bulletin, see -—
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No region was spared

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

Looking at the trends by development status and region, a heavy decline in services exports was observed in all groups of economies. The highest relative drop was measured in American developing economies and in Africa, where travel and transport hold a more prominent role. Services imports also decreased everywhere, with the highest relative decline measured for the group of American developing economies (Latin America and the Caribbean).

Leading services exporters

With US$706 billion worth of services sold internationally in 2020, the United States of America remained the world’s leading exporter, maintaining a 14 per cent share of the global market. It was followed, at some distance, by two European countries that jointly captured a 13 per cent market share. China, the leading exporter among developing economies, ranked fourth overall, with US$281 billion of services sold. All top five services exporters from the developing world were Asian. In 2020, they captured 16 per cent of the global market.

Figure 3. Top 5 services exporters, 2020
(Billions of United States dollars)

Concepts and definitions

In this chapter, in accordance with the concepts of the balance of payments -—
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, services are understood as the result of a production activity that changes the conditions of the consuming units, or facilitates the exchange of products or financial assets.

International trade in services takes place when a service is supplied in any of the following modes: from one economy to another (services cross the border); within an economy to service a consumer of another economy (consumer crosses the border); or through the presence of natural persons of one economy in another economy (supplier crosses the border) -—
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Trade-in-services figures are jointly compiled by UNCTAD and WTO, in cooperation with ITC and UNSD.

Seasonal adjustments are based on UNCTAD secretariat calculations using X-11.

Summary tables

Table 1. Trade in services by group of economies
    Table 2. Leading services exporters and importers by group of economies, 2020
    Developed economies
        Developing economies
            Developing economies: Africa
                Developing economies: America
                    Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

                        References

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