Creative Economy Bucks the Trend, Grows Despite Slowdown in Global Trade

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Creative Economy Bucks the Trend, Grows Despite Slowdown in Global Trade
Latest data shows that China dominates trade in creative goods and services

Geneva, Switzerland, 14 January 2019

​Global trade in creative goods is expanding with average export growth rates of more than 7%, according to a new UNCTAD report outlining trends in the global creative economy.

The report, which includes sector-level profiles for 130 developed and developing countries, also charts China’s remarkable rise in the trade of creative goods. China accounts for more than one-third of global art sales at auction. Its film production is set to soar, and it contributes a significant portion to global trade of design products such as furniture, fashion and jewelry.

“The creative economy has both commercial and cultural worth,” Pamela Coke-Hamilton, who directs UNCTAD’s trade division, said. “Acknowledging this dual value has led governments worldwide to expand and develop their creative economies as part of economic diversification strategies and efforts to stimulate economic growth, prosperity and well-being.”

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.

For the first time, the economic contribution of creative services, not just goods, is also measured at country level in the report, called Creative Economy Outlook: Trends in International Trade in Creative Industries.

“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,” Ms. Coke-Hamilton said.

The creative industries – including architecture, arts and crafts, marketing and advertising, media and publishing, research & development, software, computer games, and other core creative work – are the lifeblood of the creative economy.

Design and visual arts are among the highest performing sectors with fashion, interior design and jewelry accounting for 54% of creative goods exports.

“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 excels

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 13 years 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 where China recorded a $168.5 billion trade in creative goods, but comparatively, China has maintained the dragon’s share of the trade in creative goods. In 2015 Chinese exports were four times that of the United States.

The new data 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 also had the world’s highest trade surplus of $154 billion due to its high exports. Generally, South-South trade is on the rise and looks set to be an area of vibrant future growth,” Ms. Henderson said.

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.

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.

Creative services

The report highlights the shift from creative goods production to delivery of creative services as an emerging trend, 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 more 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. By offering economic insight into the trade in creative goods and services, governments are better able to understand their creative economies, leverage gaps and amplify areas of performance,” she said.