The third quarter of 2020 saw a partial recovery of world trade in manufactured goods, led by electronics, textiles and automotive products, as production resumed and lockdown measures were eased in major economies, new World Trade Organization statistics show.
However, despite substantial improvement in recent months, merchandise trade is still well below 2019 levels, and preliminary estimates suggest services trade remains severely depressed.
Trade in manufactured goods was down 5% year-on-year in the quarter from July to September, much closer to pre-pandemic trade levels than the second quarter’s 19% shortfall. Computers and electronic components saw double-digit trade growth, as did shipments of textiles, which were boosted by demand for face masks.
Trade in telecommunications equipment, which includes smart phones, improved year-on-year in the third quarter compared to the previous quarter, but surprisingly fell by 11% in September compared to the same month in 2019, as Chinese exports declined by 13%. This development may suggest a saturation of the market. In contrast, trade in computers and electronic components, which had already recorded positive growth in the second quarter, accelerated in the third quarter by 11% and 10%, respectively.
After growing at an average rate of 10% in the first half of the year, trade in pharmaceutical products contracted by 1% in the third quarter. This appears to indicate an end to stockpiling, particularly in Europe, where COVID-19 cases dropped significantly over the summer.
Trade in personal protective equipment (PPE) — not shown in the chart — continued to grow rapidly, rising by 63% in the third quarter compared Although the fall in services trade appears to have bottomed out as travel restrictions on intra-European travel were lifted over the summer, most economies continued to record sharp declines. In September, services exports from the United States were 27% below pre-pandemic levels, while China’s services imports were down by 18% year-on-year. The resurgence of COVID-19 in the autumn has put recovery on hold. By contrast, the availability of a vaccine and its manufacturing, transport and distribution will contribute to the recovery of services trade in 2021, both directly and by facilitating travel.to the year before, with trade in face masks, largely fabric masks, up 102%. In the first nine months of 2020, nearly 60% of face masks were supplied by China.