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Asian dynamism boosts trade in information technology goods, UNCTAD figures show

Geneva, Switzerland, (29 January 2013)

​Global exports of information and communication technology (ICT) goods climbed by 4 per cent to US$1.8 trillion in 2011, new UNCTAD data shows (table 1). The growth was driven by trade in developing Asia, where such exports reached a record $1.2 trillion for the year. That represents 64 per cent of the world total.

ICT goods – products such as mobile phones, smartphones, laptops, tablets, integrated circuits and various other parts and components – now account for 11 per cent of total merchandise exports. The top ten exporters of ICT goods made up as much as four fifths of total ICT trade, led by China, which had exports of $508 billion for the year.

The Asian region also saw increased imports of ICT goods in 2011, to $853 billion, or 44 per cent of such imports worldwide (table 2).

Asia’s rising share in the manufacture and trade of ICT goods has been fuelled by the cross-border transport of intermediate goods within intraregional production networks. That pattern has resulted in considerable South–South flows, UNCTAD statistics indicate.

Meanwhile, Africa and Latin America saw their exports decline in 2011 both in absolute and relative terms. Since 2000, Africa and Latin America have maintained relatively constant export shares, while the share of developed countries has tended to fall by approximately 5 per cent annually.

South–South flows have become the largest form of trade in ICT goods, representing 40 per cent of global flows (fig. 1). In fact, as much as 80 per cent of all developing-country imports of such products originate from the South. More than half of these trade flows consist of electronic components – such as integrated circuits, processors and controllers – which serve as inputs into final goods (fig. 2).

For many finished ICT goods, consumers in developed countries remained the prime importers for the period 2000–2011. For example, developed economies still accounted for almost three quarters of the global value of consumer electronic equipment imports. Most of these imports originated in Asia. The demand for ICT gadgets was sustained in 2011, especially for mobile phones, smartphones, and portable computers, all of which hit record global import levels and high growth rates in 2011.

Telephones for cellular networks (including mobile phones and smartphones) are the finished ICT goods category with the single largest import value ($174 billion), up a remarkable 22 per cent from 2010. Double-digit import growth rates were recorded in many developed and developing countries. In Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and Togo, such imports more than doubled in 2011, suggesting particularly fast-growing demand. The top ten exporters of this type of product were, in descending order: China, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan Province of China, Hungary, Hong Kong (China), Mexico, the United States, Singapore, Germany and India.

Portable automatic data processing machines (including laptops, netbooks and tablets) made up the largest imported item in the computer and peripheral equipment category. These products accounted for $137 billion in imports, 17 per cent higher than in 2010. Imports of these goods more than doubled in 2011 in Algeria, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Ghana, Guyana, Macao (China), Nigeria and Sri Lanka. China alone accounts for almost 75 per cent of global exports of such products, UNCTAD figures show.


Box 1. Online UNCTAD data on the information economy

In the context of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development1, UNCTAD's Division on Technology and Logistics publishes data for the core indicators related to the information economy. Two of these concern trade in ICT goods:

  • ICT3: ICT goods imports as a percentage of total imports (table 3); and
  • ICT4: ICT goods exports as a percentage of total exports (table 4).

A complete dataset for 2000-2011 on trade in ICT goods can be accessed free of charge at This reflects the new OECD definition of ICT goods and is based on the United Nations COMTRADE database. Data for 123 economies are available, including by trading partner and by type of good traded.

For more information, please contact, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD.

Note: 1. See


Table 1. ICT goods exports by level of development and geographical region, 2010 and 2011IN13001t1_en.GIF
Source: UNCTADStat.


Table 2. ICT goods imports by level of development and geographical region, 2010 and 2011

Source: UNCTADStat


Figure 1. ICT goods imports direction of trade, 2000-2011IN13001f1_en.GIF
Source: UNCTADStat


Figure 2. Regional ICT goods imports composition by main product categories, 2011

Source: UNCTADStat


Table 3. Top 10 economies by proportion of ICT goods imports in total merchandise imports (ICT3), 2010 and 2011


Source: UNCTADStat

Table 4. Top 10 economies by proportion of ICT goods exports in total merchandise exports (ICT4), 2010 and 2011


Source: UNCTADStat 


For more information, please contact:
UNCTAD Communications and Information Unit
T: +41 22 917 5828
T: +41 79 502 43 11

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