Global trade is bouncing back from the Covid-19 crisis at a record rate, according to the latest figures from UNCTAD, released in the week that this publication goes to press. World trade increased by 10% year-on-year and 4% quarter-over-quarter in Q1 this year, with a rather remarkable rise of about 3% relative to Q4 2019.

The report adds that it took just four quarters after the start of the pandemic-induced recession for trade to return to pre-recession levels. By contrast, it took nine quarters to recover from the 2009 global financial crisis.

UNCTAD notes, however, that the upturn is not being felt to the same extent all over the world. While exports from East Asia have rebounded substantially, trade values in several other regions remain below Q4 2019 averages, with the Middle East’s exports still 2% lower than they were pre-pandemic.

It has been reported elsewhere that the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is, nevertheless, on the path to economic recovery, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently revising this year’s growth forecast upward for the region.

Real GDP in Mena is now expected to grow 4% in 2021, up from the IMF’s projection of 3.2% in October last year.

The outlook is expected to vary significantly across countries in the region, and will be dependent on “the race between vaccine and virus, and on the underlying fragilities and responses”, the IMF says in its regional economic report.

A particular concern going forward is rising government debt, which has worsened in the past year as a result of substantial borrowing to finance essential health and social protection measures.

According to the World Bank, most Mena countries may find themselves, in a post-pandemic world, shackled to a debt service bill requiring resources that could otherwise be devoted to economic development.

With a partial recovery expected, but dependent on an equitable rollout of vaccines, 2021 looks set to be a year in which policy innovation will be needed to create new opportunities and chart a path forward.

“Countries must consider 2021 the year of policymaking to implement policies that help bring the pandemic to an end, accelerate the recovery, promote debt sustainability, and build more inclusive and green economies,” says Jihad Azour, the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department director.

In this GTR+ Mena annual publication, we take a look at some of the initiatives that have been rolled out across the region that address these and other concerns and may help shape the future. With a focus on cross-border activities, our economic overview examines what’s in store for the region and explores some of the main challenges; our roundtable discussion covers the myriad factors affecting the outlook for trade finance; and elsewhere, in our Suez Canal report, we investigate the long-term disruption to trade activity in North Africa as a result of the recent blockage.