WTO predicts weak global trade growth in 2016

Alicia Nicholls

“Trade is still registering positive growth, albeit at a disappointing rate.” This is according to the World Trade Organisation’s Director-General Roberto Azevedo in the WTO’s latest Trade Statistics and Outlook released this afternoon. In its latest report, the WTO has significantly revised its forecast of global trade growth in 2016 to 2.8%, down from its forecast of 3.9% in September 2015. This is disconcerting news for Caribbean countries  as weaker global demand also impacts demand for Caribbean exports.

2015 performance

According to the WTO, the projected expansion of global trade at 2.8% in 2016 would be same rate at which global trade grew in 2015. In what was described as a tumultuous year for global trade on account of weak global demand, 2015 saw trade declines in developing and developed countries in the second quarter of 2015 and a rebound in the final half of the year. South America saw the lowest growth in imports in 2015 as Brazil’s recession dampened demand for imports.

The WTO did not provide any data for the Caribbean’s 2015 performance in its report. However, recently published data from the Barbados Statistical Service showed, for example, that though Barbados’ total merchandise exports from January-December 2015 increased year on year by $17.1 million or 1.8%  over 2014,  this export growth was limited to a robust 16.6% increase in re-exports whilst domestic merchandise exports actually fell by 8.8%.

2016 forecast

Though projected trade growth remains positive, WTO economists have noted that the rate of global trade growth remains below the average global trade growth rate of 5% since 1990. This year’s forecast would also make it five consecutive years that global trade would have grown at almost the same rate as global GDP, as opposed to twice as fast. The report also notes that despite the growth in trade volumes, the dollar value of trade fell 13% in 2015  due to falling commodities prices and exchange rate volatility.

According to the WTO’s Report, Asia will lead global export growth in 2016 at 3.4% growth, followed by North America and Europe, which are both estimated to see a 3.1% increase in their exports. For South and Central America, Africa, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East, the picture is not as rosy, with imports expected to contract (albeit lower) due to low oil and commodities prices. WTO economists predict that while exports from developed countries are expected to grow around the same rate (2.9% in developed countries and 2.8% in developing), developed economies imports are projected to grow faster (at 3.3%) than developing countries’ imports (at 1.8%) in 2016.

Noting that “risks to the trade forecasts remain tilted to the downside”, the WTO highlighted the slowdown in the Chinese economy, the worsening volatility in financial markets, exposure of countries with high levels of foreign indebtedness to sharp exchange rate movements and declining business and consumer confidence in developed countries which could lead to slower GDP growth in the EU and US in 2016.

At the same time, the WTO has also suggested that more accommodative monetary policy of the European Central Bank could promote growth in the Euro area and encourage demand for goods and services. The WTO also highlighted the threat of “creeping protectionism” due to the growth in trade restrictive measures. The good news is that global trade growth is expected to pick up in 2017 to 3.6%.

These are developments which the Caribbean should continue to monitor closely, particularly the developments in the US and EU, our major trading partners, as well as China which has become a leading development partner for the region. The drop in oil prices has negatively affected oil exports from Trinidad & Tobago and its economy is currently in recession. Commodities exporter Suriname has also faced hard times due to the low commodities prices.

The full press release may be accessed here

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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