Newly released UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2018 offers up-to-date, reliable trade figures in an era of uncertainty.
Global merchandise exports could grow by 10.4% this year, hitting almost $19.6 trillion, according to the UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2018, published on 5 December.
The figures are the result of “nowcasts” based on the most recent information provided by a large number of economic indicators. This follows substantial growth in 2017 when global trade in goods increased by 10% (after two years of decline). The “nowcast” for global trade in services indicates a growth of 9.5% in 2018.
The 2018 “nowcasts” are the first in the Handbook’s 50-year history and thought to be unique among available trade statistics.
“Nowcasting – or to use the more technical term, contemporaneous forecasting – allows us to provide figures for the last months of 2018 to obtain a year-end figure and before the official figures are available in the first months of 2019,” UNCTAD’s chief statistician Steve MacFeely said.
“In an era of uncertainty, with swirling fears of trade wars, reliable statistical information is more indispensable than ever,” Mr. MacFeely said.
“The UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics is a critical tool for informing policies and recommendations that may commit countries for many years as they strive to integrate into the world economy and improve the living standards of their populations,” he said.
The 2018 Handbook underlines that factors contributing to the surge in the value of world trade in 2017 are linked to an upswing of global GDP growth (3.1%), combined with increasing commodity prices (+17.7%), especially for fuels (+26.1%) and minerals, ores and metals (+12.2%), as shown by UNCTAD’s constantly-updated free market commodity price index. Similar factors were at play during 2018.
The Handbook highlights the decreasing trade imbalances between developed and developing economies in recent years.
(Billions of United States dollars)
Trade war slowdown
The surge in the value of world trade in 2017 and 2018 was also evident in the steady growth of maritime transport indicators (also compiled by UNCTAD): world seaborne trade (the volumes of goods loaded and unloaded at the world’s seaports) grew by 4% in 2017, and container port throughput (the volume of containers handled on ports) climbed by 6% in the same year.
A detailed analysis of recent trends in the “nowcast” models shows that there were significant indications of a slowdown in the second half of 2018, despite thriving trade in goods and services during the first half of the year.
“A cooling global economic outlook and adjusted expectations due to recent protectionist trade measures could explain this reverse trend,” Mr. MacFeely said.
UNCTAD nowcasted three separate variables or indicators: total merchandise trade, total services trade, and total global GDP.
The approach responds to an increased demand for up-to-date information on global international trade, its impact on economic or political developments, and for guidance on policy responses.
Published annually since 1968, the UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics provides an overview of a broad spectrum of data relevant to international trade and economic development. Now produced in an entirely revised format, it provides a snapshot of the large amount of data publicly available on the UNCTADstat portal.