International trade and balance of payments statistics
International Trade Pulse, OECD - Updated: June 2020
Trade collapses in April but signs of bottoming-out emerging
18/06/2020 - Widespread lockdowns led to a record collapse in international trade in April 2020. For several major economies, merchandise trade contracted by 20% or more, reflecting falling prices in non-agricultural commodities and volume decreases across the board. Trade in motor vehicle and machinery and equipment products was severely impacted by supply chain disruptions and a collapse in demand but trade in computers and parts, as well as medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, held up comparatively well.
Travel and passenger transport services ground to a virtual halt. However, trade in digitisable services, such as telecoms, computer and business services, was resilient to the broad downturn, working to partially offset the widespread collapse in overall services trade.
Provisional merchandise trade data for May 2020 suggest that the bottom may be in sight, with moderate growth in some economies and a slowdown in the pace of contraction in others.
Japanese and Koreanmerchandise exports contracted by 10.6% and 21.7% respectively in April, compared to March, as European and North American markets went into lockdown. However, Chinese exports (up 3.7%), were nearly back at 2019 levels. Shipments of machinery and transport equipment were particularly weak across Asia but exports of computers and parts and coronavirus-related products remained robust. Imports fell across all three economies: by 7.9% in China, 9.5% in Korea and marginally (by 0.1%) in Japan.
Travel and passenger transport services remained severely disrupted in April, dragging total services exports and imports down (by 7.1% and 5.6%, respectively in Japan and by 10.3% and 5.4% in Korea). However Chinese services exports picked up (by 4.2%) from their recent lows, in part boosted by higher transport services. Trade in telecommunications and computer services remained robust across Japan, Korea and China1.
Merchandise trade data for May suggest that the bottom may be in sight. Korean exports increased by 1.3% and contracted by only (minus) 0.6% in China, while the pace of contraction in imports slowed to minus 4.1% in Korea and minus 1.8% in China.
Australia’smerchandise exports contracted by a relatively mild (minus) 5.5% in April, as increased exports of agricultural products (where prices rose) offset much of the fall in mineral ores (where prices fell). Imports fell by 4.8%. Services imports collapsed however (by 41.8%) and exports declined by 12.2%. Freight transport grew by 5.6% and 15.6% for exports and imports, respectively, partly reflecting a three to four fold increase in air freight prices between mid-March and mid-May, on the back of reduced capacity on commercial passenger flights.
Merchandise trade exports shrank by 25.1% and 29.2% in the United States and Canada in April, with motor vehicle supply chains severely disrupted. Imports also contracted sharply, by 13.6% in the United States and 25.7% in Canada, with imports of cars and car parts dropping 52.2% and 80%, respectively. Trade in computers and parts held up well however, with purchases increasing by 14.7% in the United States.
Services trade contracted significantly in Canada (minus 21.1% for exports and minus 31.2% for imports). The fall was milder in the United States (minus 10.7% for exports and minus 14% for imports), as digitisable services proved more resilient to the downturn. Other business services, accounting for a fifth of total exports and imports in the United States, declined by only 4.1% and 1.5%, respectively, in April, whilst telecommunications, computer and information services picked up by 1.7% (exports) and 0.6% (imports).
Merchandise exports in Brazil decreased by 5.8% in April and imports fell by 20.6%. However, exports picked up marginally (by 0.9%) and imports rebounded strongly (up 25.4%) in May. Exports and imports of services dropped by 21.1% and 28.9%, respectively, in April.
With the exception of the pharmaceutical sector, merchandise trade across Europe collapsed in April, with exports falling by 26.9% in Germany, by 33.9% in France and by 15.6% in the United Kingdom. Imports also fell by 17.4%, 26% and 21.3% respectively.
Exports of services contracted by 15.5% in Germany, by 23.9% in the United Kingdom and by 8.8% in France. Imports showed a similar pattern, falling by 20.8% in Germany and 37.3% in the United Kingdom but by only 3.4% in France.
Weak demand for energy, coupled with low energy prices, continued to depress Russian merchandise exports, which dropped by 17.8% in April. With imports falling by 16%, the country recorded its lowest trade surplus since 2016. Russian trade in services, heavily concentrated in the transport and travel sectors, collapsed in April: exports and imports contracted by 43.9% and 40.7%, respectively.
Table 1: Merchandise exports and imports for selected economies M-o-M growth rate in %
(1) OECD estimates based on cumulative values for January and February as compiled and disseminated by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics. Given the potentially significant distortionary impact of containment measures on seasonal patterns, the figures should be interpreted with caution.
Table 2: Services exports and imports of selected economies M-o-M growth rate in %
Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate based on national sources. Growth rates refer to current US dollars, seasonally adjusted figures.
(1) OECD estimates based on cumulative values for January and February as compiled and disseminated by the Chinese State Administration of Foreign Exchange. Given the potentially significant distortionary impact of containment measures on seasonal patterns, the figures should be interpreted with caution.
This note attempts to provide a timely picture on international trade by bringing together the latest data on those countries where data are available. For any question, contact the OECD Statistics and Data Directorate at SDD.Tradestats@oecd.org.
1. Exports of telecommunication, computer and information services increased by 80%, 13% and 12% respectively for Japan, Korea and China for January-April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Imports of the same products grew by 3% in Japan and by 24% in China over the same period, while Korea reported a marginal decline (minus 1%).