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Home News How Covid-19 is changing the world: A statistical perspective

How Covid-19 is changing the world: A statistical perspective

The coronavirus pandemic cut global trade values by 3% in the first quarter of this year, according to the latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) data published in a joint report by 36 international organisations.

The downturn is expected to accelerate in the second quarter, with global trade projected to record a quarter-on-quarter decline of 27%, according to the report by the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA).

The report is a product of cooperation between the international statistics community and national statistical offices and systems around the world, coordinated by UNCTAD.

“Everywhere governments are pressed to make post-Covid-19 recovery decisions with long-lasting consequences,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said. “Those decisions should be informed by the best available information and data. UNCTAD has played a central role in bringing so many international organisations together to compile valuable facts and figures to support the response to the pandemic.”

Global merchandise trade values

(Growth rate over previous quarter, seasonally adj. series)

Figure 1
Note: Shaded area indicates UNCTAD nowcasts Source: UNCTAD

According to the report, the drop in global trade is accompanied by marked decreases in commodity prices, which have fallen precipitously since December last year.

UNCTAD's free-market commodity price index (FMCPI), which measures the price movements of primary commodities exported by developing economies, lost 1.2% of its value in January, 8.5% in February and a whopping 20.4% in March.

Plummeting fuel prices were the main driver of the steep decline, plunging 33.2% in March, while prices of minerals, ores, metals, food and agricultural raw materials fell by less than 4%.

The more than 20% fall in commodity prices in March was a record in the history of the FMCPI. By comparison, during the global financial crisis of 2008, the maximum month-on-month decrease was 18.6%.

At that time, the descent lasted six months. Worryingly, the duration and overall strength of the current downward trend in commodity prices and global trade remain uncertain.

Evolution of trade value nowcasts with new data, first quarter of 2020

(Growth rate over previous quarter, seasonally adj. series)

Figure 2
Source: UNCTAD

Before the coronavirus pandemic sent international commerce into a tailspin, global merchandise trade volumes and values were showing modest signs of recovery since late 2019.

The UNCTAD nowcasts featured in the report incorporate a wide variety of data sources, capturing diverse determinants and indicators of trade, but the situation is changing rapidly.

“In this time of crisis, we are putting out the facts as we know them today. We’ll continue monitoring the global trade landscape as it evolves,” stated UNCTAD's chief statistician, Steve MacFeely.

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