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8 Jan, 2012

Global Trade Stats Show U.S. Down, Developing Countries Up

Geneva – The UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) has released its Handbook of Statistics 2011, a wide-ranging survey of numerical information on international trade flows, commodity prices, migrant remittances, maritime transport, and the economic performances of developing countries. As transport and tourism usually follow in the footsteps of trade flows, this handbook is an excellent source of trend information, for those willing to take the time and the trouble to pore through it.

Large-scale trends revealed by the publication include volatile prices for commodities since the turn of the Millennium and long-term economic gains by several developing nations – from 1981 to 2010, for example, China´s share of world exports in goods and services grew by over 8 percentage points, and its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by nearly 7 percentage points.

Over the same period, the United States´ share of world exports in goods declined by 3.5 percentage points and its portion of global GDP fell by nearly 2.5 percentage points. The countries of the European Union saw a decline in services export share of 8 percentage points for the period. (See chart below.) These statistics provide evidence of the growing prominence of developing economies in the global economy. (see figure)

The Handbook also shows that commodity price indices displayed record volatility from 2001 through 2010, climbing at an annual average rate of 12.2% per year. That was a sharp change from the two preceding decades, when they increased by only 0.5% per year (1981 to 1990) and fell by 1.3% per year (1991 through 2000). The price of rice, the most important staple food for a large part of the world´s population, showed the sharpest increases between 2001 and 2010, climbing by an average of 15% per year.

Figures for 2009-2010 also show that developing countries account for large proportions of world exports of a number of commodities and products, such as fixed vegetable fat and oil (88.7% of world exports); copper ores and concentrates (79.1%); female clothing, knitted and crocheted (75.9%); crude petroleum and bituminous oil (71.4%); and woven cotton fabrics (71.3%).

Overall, the Handbook provides a broad range of statistics covering individual countries, regions, various economic groupings and the world at large. It is meant to provide essential data for analysing and measuring world trade, investment, international financial flows and development. Among the topics covered:

(+) International merchandise trade and international trade in services;

(+) Commodity prices, including long-term series and calculations on volatility of prices;

(+) The world merchant shipping fleet;

(+) International financial performance, including current account balances, foreign direct investment, migrants´ remittances, international reserves of developing economies, official financial flows, and external long-term debt; and

(+) Development indicators linked to national accounts such as GDP, population figures, and labor force.

Official statistics on merchandise trade by partner and product are normally never entirely complete because statistical capacities vary from country to country. UNCTAD, to the extent possible, furnishes estimates to fill in data gaps and provide comprehensive datasets for analysis.

The Handbook is available free here.