As 2023 draws to a close, global trade remains in the grip of persistent challenges. Yet collaborative industry efforts and transformative initiatives hint at more positive shifts for the coming year.

As this publication goes to press, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has revised its 2023 growth forecast for global goods trade to a modest 0.8% from the previous 1.7%, indicating a broad-based slowdown across various countries and sectors. However, projections hint at a potential rebound in 2024, subject to the trajectory of inflation and other key economic indicators, with the WTO expecting trade growth of 3.3%.

Optimism for a resumption of strong but stable growth coincides with the achievement of several significant industry milestones.

The UK’s recent implementation of the Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA) stands out as a major advancement for the trade industry. Granting digital versions of trade documents legal equivalence to their physical counterparts, the ETDA’s significance lies in its potential to enhance efficiency, reduce costs and minimise the carbon footprint of trade. While English law governs a majority of global trade documents, achieving widespread success for the Act will depend heavily on international collaboration and the adoption of similar legislation in other countries.

In other important news, the European Union has recently adopted the rules governing the implementation of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism to equalise the price of carbon between domestic products and imports. The measure, initially affecting imports of carbon-intensive goods like fertilisers, electricity and hydrogen, is expected to shape global supply chain dynamics, influencing competitiveness and driving demand for eco-friendly products.

Elsewhere, the United States and China have begun mending their strained trading relationship, marked by reopened communication channels, working groups and incremental progress on export controls. A proposed meeting between Presidents Biden and Xi at the November APEC summit offers potential breakthroughs in key areas such as science and technology agreements.

These and other pivotal developments form the backdrop for our Q4 Export Finance issue.

Our roundtable discussion with senior export finance bankers covers industry changes in response to the energy transition, the Ukraine crisis and supply chain adjustments, touching on the growing focus on green projects and highlighting key themes such as longer tenors, enhanced flexibility and greater collaboration with non-bank financial investors.

In our trends report, we look into the evolving role of export credit agencies (ECAs), underlining their heightened focus on critical resource security, sustainability and small business support, and a shift away from their historical function as lenders of last resort for export transactions.

Our sustainability feature delves into the failure of certain ECAs to adhere to the Glasgow Statement, intended to put an end to international public finance for fossil fuels. Our analysis highlights the influence of political factors and economic justifications, shedding light on potential consequences for climate finance and international commitments.

Elsewhere, in our recoveries report, we offer insights into the intricate process of recouping funds from overseas buyers by ECAs. We examine the challenges, strategies and risks involved, while also exploring the complexities of managing debts in high-risk and volatile markets.

Meanwhile, in our Europe section, we take a closer look at the traditionally unlikely combination of export finance and commodities trading, charting the growing involvement of ECAs in securing energy and metal supply chains. As outlined in this piece, given the continued importance of commodity sourcing and the sustained need for government

support in the face of global market dislocations, export finance is likely to play a crucial role in supporting critical minerals and energy transition projects well into the future.