Global goods trade is in for a bumpy ride, the World Trade Organization (WTO) says, with key indicators of trade growth flashing red despite higher-than-expected volumes in the third quarter of 2022.
The WTO’s latest trade barometer, which attempts to predict the trajectory of trade growth, is tracking well below baseline levels, according to an update released last week.
Goods trade volumes have been growing faster than previous WTO predictions. Year-on-year growth is at 4.4% for the first three quarters of 2022, compared to the WTO’s October forecast of a 3.5% lift for the full year.
But the WTO believes that when figures for the final quarter of last year are released they will show a significantly weaker picture, with a quarter-on-quarter decline likely to shunt growth back into the range of the organisation’s October forecast.
The global economic outlook is patchy, with persistent inflation and elevated commodity prices dampening consumer spending in many markets, while China’s emergence from Covid-19 restrictions is expected to stimulate domestic demand.
The barometer index is now at 92.2, down from 96.2 in the previous barometer released in November and now significantly below the baseline level of 100.
Almost all components measured by the barometer fell during the second half of last year, with export orders, air freight, container port throughput, electronic components and agricultural raw materials all recording sharp declines.
Only vehicle production and sales rose, with activity in Europe, Japan and the US offsetting declines in China. Export orders also showed a glimmer of recovery in the final month of 2022.
But with container throughput at Chinese ports picking up, the WTO barometer notes that “the anticipated trade slowdown may be short lived”.
The WTO’s November barometer was similarly gloomy about future trade prospects, and in October the WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that the trade and economic outlook for 2023 had “darkened considerably” and that the risks to trade “are all on the downside”.
One apparent bright spot is commodities trade, which the WTO said last month remained “remarkably resilient” during 2022, while many of the price shocks observed in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have ebbed.