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Authoritative analysis report: 2020 global trade changes

January 29, 2021

Source: Focus Vision, China Trade News

On April 8, 2020, when the new crown epidemic broke out globally, the World Trade Organization (WTO) predicted that global trade would collapse this year, even the most serious one after World War II.

At that time, the WTO predicted that under optimistic circumstances, global merchandise trade volume would shrink by 12.9% in 2020; under pessimistic conditions, global trade volume might fall by 32%.

In October 2020, the WTO issued a new revised forecast based on changes in the situation. It is expected that global merchandise trade will drop by 9.2% compared to 2019. With the lifting of the epidemic prevention blockade, the surge in cross-border trade in June and July has been avoided. A deeper decline in trade.

However, the WTO also predicts that the growth rate of global trade in 2021 will be only 7.2%, which is far lower than the previously expected rebound of 21.3%, and the scale of trade will also be far below the level before the epidemic.

In crisis and opportunity, global trade has entered a new year. What fundamental changes or new trends have emerged?

01. Look at China for mask supply

On December 22, 2020, the WTO issued the "Global Medical Trade Report for the First Half of 2020". In the first half of 2020, global trade in goods fell by 14% year-on-year, but the import and export of medical products reached US$1,139 billion, a year-on-year increase of 16%.

Import and export trade plays an important role in the fight against the epidemic. The demand for products such as disinfectants, masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, oximeters, syringes, thermometers and ventilators has skyrocketed, and the global trade in key anti-epidemic materials increased by 29%.

China has become the world's largest supplier of masks, accounting for 56% of world exports. At the same time, in the first half of 2020, China is the sixth largest importer of masks. China relies heavily on the import of intermediate raw materials. In April 2020, China imported three times as many non-woven fabrics as in the same period in 2019. Japan and the United States are the main suppliers. The major importing countries of anti-epidemic-related materials achieved double-digit growth, with imports from France and Italy increasing by 62% and 52% respectively.

China, Germany, and the United States have become the three major traders in epidemic prevention products, leading the trade of key epidemic products.

In terms of exports, in the first half of 2020, China’s exports of key epidemic products increased from US$18 billion to US$55 billion. China, Germany, the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Belgium, France, Ireland and the Netherlands are the top ten countries. It accounts for more than 72% of world exports.

In terms of imports, the United States is the largest importer of key epidemic products, accounting for 19% of the total global imports of key epidemic products, followed by Germany (9%) and China (6%). 41% of the U.S.'s imports of key epidemic products came from China, and Germany's imports of key epidemic products from China in the first half of the year increased by more than five times year-on-year. The share of Chinese products in these products imported by Germany also increased from less than 8.6% to 33.1%.

In terms of imports of key products for the epidemic, China's imports from Japan grew the fastest, reaching 17.8%.

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02. Global trade restrictions have been reduced

On December 11, 2020, the WTO released its annual trade monitoring report. Due to the impact of the epidemic, global trade has fallen sharply. Governments are more concerned about fighting the epidemic, which has relatively eased bilateral trade tensions.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, WTO members have adopted a total of 335 measures related to trade in goods, of which 58% are promoting measures and 42% are restrictive measures, involving trade volumes of US$227 billion and US$180 billion respectively. From the new crown pandemic to October 2020, 39% of trade restrictions have been abolished.

The WTO stated that in the past year, the import promotion measures covered by WTO members have climbed from US$544.7 billion to US$731.3 billion, while import restrictions have decreased from US$746.9 billion to US$440.9 billion.

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03. Promote government policy innovation in the digital age

On November 23, 2020, the WTO released its annual report "World Trade Report 2020: Government Policies to Promote Innovation in the Digital Age".

The report focuses on the theme of how to innovate government policies in the digital age, and analyzes the policies and trends of governments in recent years that support the transition to the digital economy, promote digital innovation, economic innovation, and technological progress, as well as the impact of this trend on trade flows and global commerce .

The report pointed out that trade and trade policies have always been an important driving force for innovation. In particular, the multilateral trading system has made significant contributions to the global expansion of innovation and technology by improving predictable global market conditions and supporting the development of global value chains.

With the continuous development of the digital economy, companies rely more on intangible assets. Compared with traditional companies, digital companies can enter the global market faster. The success of the digital economy will depend on factors such as market opening, access to information and ICT products and services, collaborative research projects, and the dissemination of new technologies.

The report stated that the world economy is shifting to digitalization and informationization, which highlights the importance of innovation and technology in promoting economic growth. In the digital age, an important feature of government policies is to support the transition to a digital economy. More and more countries have adopted "new industrial policies" to promote growth by supporting innovation and technological upgrading.

Innovative government policies that support the digital economy are embodied in the introduction of economic development plans aimed at upgrading technology and advancing the digitalization of production and services, including specific digital development plans and innovative industry development strategies. In addition, the new crown pneumonia epidemic has stimulated the development of e-commerce and digital innovation, and at the same time promoted government support measures for capacity building and upgrading of ICT.

The report pointed out that since the 2008 international financial crisis, government intervention in the economy has become popular again. So far, about 115 countries have formulated "new industrial policies", "industry 4.0" or "digital transformation" plans. All countries at different stages of development have policies to support innovation and digital transformation, especially in many developing countries. Active policies promote the development of digital technology and the construction of telecommunications infrastructure. These new policies reflect the characteristics of the digital economy, that is, to be digital-oriented, to encourage technological upgrading, digital production and digital innovation, and to highlight the central role of data in policy tools.

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04. China's import and export contributes to global trade

On October 6, 2020, the WTO released an updated report on "Global Trade Data and Outlook". The report predicts that global trade in goods will shrink by 9.2% in 2020, better than the previously predicted decline of 13% to 32%. The report also predicts that global trade in goods will grow by 7.2% in 2021, which is much lower than the previous growth expectation of more than 20%.

The better-than-expected performance of global trade in 2020 can be attributed in part to the implementation of strong monetary and fiscal policies by many countries to support national and corporate incomes, which enabled the rapid rebound of consumption and imports after the "unblocking" and accelerated recovery of economic activities.

Data show that in the second quarter of 2020, global trade in goods has experienced a historical decline, with a month-on-month drop of 14.3%. However, from June to July, global trade performed strongly, releasing a positive signal of bottoming out and raising expectations for full-year trade performance.

The trade scale of epidemic-related products such as medical supplies has grown against the trend, which has partially offset the impact of contraction in trade in other industries. Among them, personal protective equipment experienced "explosive" growth during the epidemic, and its global trade scale increased by 92% in the second quarter.


The report emphasizes that the forecast data still has a high degree of uncertainty, and the final performance of global trade will depend on the development of the epidemic and the prevention and control measures adopted by the government.

In the medium term, whether the global economy can achieve sustained recovery will mainly depend on the performance of future investment and employment, and the performance of both is closely related to corporate confidence. If the epidemic rebounds in the future and the government re-implements the "blockade" measures, corporate confidence will also be shaken. In the longer term, swelling public debt will also affect global trade and economic growth, and less developed countries may face a heavy debt burden.

Coleman Ni, a senior WTO economist, said that in the first half of 2020, China not only supported intra-regional trade in terms of import demand, but also performed better than expected in terms of exports. For example, during this period, global exports of personal protective equipment increased by 49%, and the trade volume is expected to reach 98 billion U.S. dollars, of which China contributed 43.8%.

>>>The original address of the report:


A PDF of the "Report on China's Foreign Trade Situation-Fall 2020" prepared by the Ministry of Commerce is also provided,

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