The remarkable story of China's dominance in the trade of creative goods and services is the golden thread of a new creative economy outlook by UNCTAD.
With export growth rates of over 7% over 13 years, global trade in creative goods is an expanding and resilient sector buoyed by China, according to a new UNCTAD report.
The second edition of the periodic Creative Economy Outlook: Trends in International Trade in Creative Industries examines the global picture and also features 130 country profiles with reported creative goods and services trade data.
The data, which covers the period 2002 to 2015, shows the creative economy’s contribution to world trade.
Over this period, the value of the global market for creative goods doubled from $208 billion in 2002 to $509 billion in 2015.
The report also charts the remarkable rise of China, whose exports of creative goods grew at double the global average between 2002 and 2015.
These figures are significant on two fronts, says Pamela Coke-Hamilton, who directs UNCTAD’s trade division.
“The creative economy has both commercial and cultural worth,” Ms. Coke-Hamilton said. “This dual value has led governments worldwide to focus on expanding and developing their creative economies as part of economic diversification strategies and efforts to stimulate prosperity and well-being.”
“Within the creative economy, the creative industries generate income through trade and intellectual property rights, and create new opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises,” said Ms. Coke- Hamilton.
Design and visual arts are among the highest performing sectors with fashion, interior design and jewelry accounting for 54% of creative goods exports in developed economies and 70% (including toys) in developing economies.
The creative industries – which include architecture, arts and crafts, marketing and advertising, media and publishing, research and development, software, computer games, and other core creative work – are the lifeblood of the creative economy.
“Although the downturn in global trade has impacted all industries, the report shows the creative economy is more resilient than most,” Marisa Henderson, the chief of UNCTAD’s creative economy programme, said.
“The performance of the creative economy is encouraging and shows it is thriving through the intersection of culture, technology, business and innovation.”
China is the biggest single exporter and importer of creative goods and services. It is the main force behind the creative economy boom over the past decade and a half and owns a large portion of it. China’s trade in creative goods between 2002 and 2015 has been exponential, with average annual growth rates of 14%.
In 2002 China’s trade in creative goods was $32 billion. By 2014 this figure had increased more than fivefold, tallying $191.4 billion.
There was a drop off in 2015, when China recorded a $168.5 billion trade in creative goods, but comparatively the country has maintained the lion’s share of the trade in creative goods. In 2015 Chinese exports were four times that of the United States.
The data also shows that Asia outstripped all other regions with China and South East Asia combined accounting for $228 billion of creative exports, almost double that of Europe.
China, Hong Kong (China), India, Singapore, Taiwan Province of China, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico and Philippines were the top 10 performing developing economies stimulating global trade in creative goods.
“Generally, South-South trade is on the rise and looks set to be an area of vibrant future growth especially for the creative economy,” Ms. Henderson said.
Among developed economies, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and Japan were the top 10 creative goods exporters.
The report also highlights the shift from creative goods production to delivery of creative services as an emerging trend. This is aligned with a global shift toward services as industrial and agricultural outputs decline.
Ms. Henderson explained how newspapers and published products, which were originally a creative good, have flipped to become a creative service with the expansion of online media driven by digital subscriptions and online advertising.
“Creative services will grow,” she said. “Although there is limited data on the trade in creative services, more countries are reporting on creative services trade as it becomes a defining feature of local and regional economies.”
Available creative services exports data from 38 developed countries (with a comparable dataset) remained relatively stable between 2011 and 2015, with average annual growth rates at 4%.
Of all trade in services for the 38 countries, creative services represented an average portion of 18%, growing from 17.3% in 2011 to 18.9% in 2015.
“An important paradigm shift from the industrial to the knowledge economy is underway,” Ms. Henderson said. “In it, there is a new elevation of the role of ideas, imagination and creativity, and because of this, the creative economy.”
“There is a reason to embrace and support the creative economy’s growth,” she said.
The Creative Economy Outlook: Trends in International Trade in Creative Industries report is available here.