China & East Asian economies boost global market share amid pandemic – UN

Rapid recovery from the coronavirus crisis helped China and some East Asian nations boost their share of global trade in 2020, while most economies suffered a steep drop in both exports and imports, according to a UN report.

Trade in goods originating from East Asia increased by around 12 percent in the final quarter of last year, the UN Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in its latest analysis, released on Wednesday. However, goods trade has not rebounded for most regions, the report noted.

“The recovery process has been uneven, with many countries lagging,” said UNCTAD economist Alessandro Nicita, who worked on the report.

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China has managed to capture the biggest market share, including in some sectors that were hit hard by the pandemic, like transport equipment and road vehicles. However, other nations came forward in areas where China failed to grab the most export competitiveness, like communications equipment and office machinery. According to UN data, Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan, which the report calculates separately from mainland China, captured the additional demand in those sectors.

The world’s largest economy, the US, was the biggest loser in terms of overall export share, facing a larger decline than any other economy. Russia and the EU were also in the top three regions to lose the biggest share in global trade, with both exports and imports declining. 

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While the volume of global trade is still below pre-pandemic levels, its overall decline last year was about nine percent, according to the UN’s calculations. Developing countries have contributed most to the economic rebound seen in the fourth quarter of 2020. However, the recovery was uneven not only in different regions, but also in trade of services and goods. While imports and exports of goods jumped by around eight percent in the last three months of last year, trade in services was still stagnating.

The rebound in global trade is projected to slow at the beginning of this year. UNCTAD expects trade in goods to drop 1.5 percent compared to the previous quarter, while quarter-on-quarter decline in services may reach seven percent largely because of continued disruptions in the travel sector.

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