Prospects for a rapid global trade recovery have improved after a faster-than-expected increase in trade volumes in the second half of last year, according to the World Trade Organisation. According to new WTO estimates, world trade is projected to increase by 8% in 2021 after a 5.3% decline in 2020, continuing the recovery from the pandemic-induced downturn recorded in the second quarter of 2020.
The WTO warned that this data, while indicative of positive results, was "no reason to relax", as Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. Growth will be particularly marked in Asia, where it could reach 14.4%, already up 0.3% in 2020, despite the downward trend in the global average. However, regions such as the Middle East will lag further behind, with an annual growth rate of just 5%, below pre-pandemic levels.
On the other hand, the high growth in international trade as a whole does not preclude significant discrepancies between individual countries. In fact, some developing regions are well below the global average, the WTO noted, pointing to differences in the pace of trade recovery.
Europe will come in second with 9.7% growth compared to 2020, followed by North America (8.7%), South America (7.2%) and Africa (7%), also below the rate achieved in 2019, before the pandemic began.
Trade in services, which was most affected by the pandemic, is expected to decline by 9% in 2021 and rise in 2022, but not to the level of trade in goods. Thus, 2022 will be the year of international trade recovery, but it will be uneven depending on the region and also on the vaccination of the population against COVID-19.