April 12, 2017
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is forecasting that global trade will expand significantly in 2017 and 2018.
Leading indicators of real trade growth are up in the early months of 2017, suggesting a strengthening of trade at the start of this year. Container throughput of major ports has recovered from its slump of 2015-16 to reach a record high level, with year-on-year growth of 5.2% in the first two months of 2017. A key index of world export orders has also climbed to its highest level in several years in February, pointing to faster trade growth in the coming months.
"Weak international trade growth in the last few years largely reflects continuing weakness in the global economy. Trade has the potential to strengthen global growth if the movement of goods and supply of services across borders remains largely unfettered. However, if policymakers attempt to address job losses at home with severe restrictions on imports, trade cannot help boost growth and may even constitute a drag on the recovery," said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo.
The WTO's more promising forecasts for 2017 and 2018 are predicated on certain assumptions and there is considerable downside risk that expansion will fall short of these estimates. Attaining these rates of growth depends to a large degree on global GDP expansion in line with forecasts of 2.7% this year and 2.8% next year. While there are reasonable expectations that such growth could be achieved, expansion along these lines would represent a significant improvement on the 2.3% GDP growth in 2016.
In 2016, the weak trade growth of just 1.3% was partly due to cyclical factors as economic activity slowed across the board, but it also reflected deeper structural changes in the relationship between trade and economic output.