The use of documentary trade instruments such as letters of credit (LCs) fell by just over 2% in 2011 compared to the previous year, according to the latest Swift statistics.

This marks the reversal of the growth seen in 2010 when Swift trade traffic grew by 5.81%.

Swift statistics are considered to be a good indication of overall trends in the use of LCs, as it is assumed that approximately 90% of LC transactions are conducted via Swift.

The most active region in terms of Swift traffic is Asia Pacific, which sent 43% of the total trade traffic last year.

The eurozone recorded the highest decrease in import-related trade traffic with a decline of 8.91% in Q4 2011 compared to the same quarter in 2010, although the region continues to represent 19% of total trade traffic sent.

On the export side, Asia Pacific remains the most active in terms of trade traffic. The region received 54% of the trade instruments in 2011, although it witnessed a decrease of 3.53% in traffic in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to the previous year.

Both on the export and import side, Africa saw the smallest decrease in trade activity. However, the continent only accounts for a relatively small proportion of the overall trade traffic, representing 5% of the traffic sent and only 4% of the traffic received.

Only the Central and South American region accounts for a lower share of Swift-related traffic.

The Swift data suggests that Asia is the driving force in trade activity, a sentiment reflected in the findings of a recent ICC and IMF survey which concluded that demand for trade finance in Asia would continue to grow in 2012 while trade in the eurozone would deteriorate.