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11 June 2004
RECENT TRENDS IN WORLD TRADE

Report detects shifts in services and agricultural trade patterns

International trade patterns have changed in two significant areas over the past two decades (1985-2003) with growth in services trade no longer clearly outstripping growth in goods, while agricultural trade has shifted away from commodities towards processed products, according to a WTO report released today, 11 June 2004.

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The report challenges a “general perception that world commercial services trade is growing faster than trade in goods. Indeed trade in commercial services expanded faster than goods trade in the second half of the 1980s, but thereafter the record is mixed,” it says.

Broadly, services and merchandise trade growth have evolved in a roughly similar way since 1990. For 1990–2003, trade in commercial services and goods both grew by about 6% per year on average, and therefore services’ share of international trade remained at about 20% over the period.

“Overall, there is no indication that services categories in general have increased their share in international trade,” the report says.

However, the detailed picture is more varied, with some categories of goods and services growing faster than the overall rate, and others growing slower.

The faster growing sectors are industrial products (i.e. “manufactures”) on the goods side (rising from 50.2% of world exports in 1985 to 58.2% in 2002), and a category of services that includes computer and information services, financial services, insurance, telecommunications, and personal, cultural and recreational services (the report calls these “other” services, i.e. not transport or travel) — up from 6.3% of world exports in 1985 to 9.4% in 2002.

Sectors growing slower than the overall average include transport on the services side (down from 5.5% of world exports in 1985 to 4.5% in 2002), and agricultural goods (down from 11.3% to 7.2% in the period) and mining products (down from 18.3% to 9.7%) among goods.

Mining products (including fuels) stand somewhat apart from other categories of both goods and services, with their share of world trade rising and falling the most because of swings in oil prices throughout 1985–2002.

As for agricultural products, while their total share of world trade has declined, the trend towards more trade in processed goods can be observed across regions, countries and agricultural products throughout the 1990-2002 period. The WTO Secretariat estimates that processed products approached 48% of agricultural trade by 2001–2002. The question of how far trade policy may be responsible for these observed trends is a matter for further research, the report says.

The report, “Recent Trends in International Trade Policy Developments” (attached), augments information on trade figures for 2003 and prospects for 2004 released on 5 April 2004 (see press release).

Those figures show: a stronger than expected recovery in world merchandise trade growth, at 4.5% in real terms in 2003; and an even stronger expansion in 2004, at 7.5%, but depending on certain assumptions.

The report will form part of the broader study, the WTO’s “World Trade Report 2004”, due to be published in September.

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Recent Trends in International Trade Policy Developments (pdf format, 23 pages, 907KB)