International trade and balance of payments statistics

International Trade Pulse, OECD - Updated: December 2020


Merchandise trade gradually nears pre-pandemic levels, trade in services still dragged down by travel

‌18 Dec. 2020 - International merchandise trade continued to expand in October and November, driven in particular by Asia and by robust global demand for electronics, computers and mobile phones (the so-called ‘lockdown goods’). In Europe and the Americas, the ongoing recovery in merchandise trade is being led by a rebound in machinery, transport equipment and pharmaceuticals. On the back of higher merchandise trade volumes, freight transport services also picked up in October; however, the ongoing virtual standstill in international travel continues to weigh down overall trade in services.


Following the 8.0% fall in October 2020, Korean merchandise exports rose by 3.4% in November, driven by soaring shipments of semiconductors (which have recorded steady growth for five consecutive months). Strong foreign demand for mobile phones (linked to the launch of new models), displays, computers and Covid-19 diagnostic kits also contributed to the favourable November figures. Merchandise trade imports also expanded (3.8%), particularly from China, Korea’s largest trading partner for imports, and Europe. Korean exports of services expanded by nearly 11% in October, following a modest increase in September (0.8%). Sales of transport (14.6%), telecommunication and computer services (34.1%) and business services (9.6%) all recorded robust growth. Driven by a slowdown in purchases of computer and business services, imports instead contracted by 5.8% in October, after a 10.8% jump in September.

Exports, imports, Japan and Korea

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate for merchandise, and national sources for services. Index based on current US dollars, seasonally adjusted figures. 

Chinese merchandise export growth accelerated in November (up 6.5%, following the 5.4% increase in October). Textiles (including personal protective equipment) and electronics (including mobile phones, integrated circuits, and computers and parts) continued to show sound growth. Imports were virtually flat (up 0.2%), as the surge in purchases of integrated circuits was offset by falling imports of energy products and transport equipment. Following the robust September pick-up, service trade instead slowed down in October, with exports and imports decreasing by 7.3% and 4.3%, respectively. Weak travel figures drove the overall decline, while other services, in particular exports of transport and telecommunication and computer services, continued to perform well.  

Japanese merchandise exports were up 0.5% in November, after rising 3.0% in October. Exports to China, Japan’s largest export market, are now 10% higher than in 2019, with machinery accounting for almost a quarter of Japan’s exports to that destination. Imports were down 3.2% in November, having increased by 5.3% in October. Like elsewhere in Asia, services trade also slowed in Japan in October, having increased significantly in September. Exports fell by 5.7%, with declines in all services except for transport. Imports contracted markedly (minus 12.1%) due to a slowdown in purchases of business and intellectual property services, which had increased significantly in the recent months. 

Merchandise trade in October for Australia recorded steady growth in exports (up 6.3%) and imports (up 5.7%). Higher prices and rising shipments of metal ores and minerals (up around 14%) were the main driver of exports, while transport and telecommunication equipment pushed total imports up. After a momentary pick-up in September, Australian exports of services decreased by 2.0% in October, with all services but freight transport showing a decrease. Imports of services also declined (by 1.1%).


Merchandise exports for the United States increased by 3.0% in October 2020, pushed by steady increases in shipments of aircraft and parts, natural gas and semiconductors. Merchandise imports were up 2.3% in October, helped by solid growth in purchases of mobile phones and other home electronics, and computers and parts. Services exports increased marginally (0.5%, following 0.9% growth in September), with growth in travel (up 5.7%) and transport (up 4.3%) mitigated by weaker sales in other services. Total services imports grew by 1.9% in October, the slowest rate in four months, although travel and transport showed signs of recovery (up by 18.9% and 5.1%, respectively). 

Higher Canadian exports of pharmaceutical and energy products in October contributed to total merchandise exports rising by 1.2%. Growth in imports (up 2.8%) during October, were partially built on higher imports of home electronics and mobile phones. On the services side, exports and imports recorded 2.0% and 1.8% growth, respectively. Transport services increased faster than all the other services (6.1% for exports and 6.5% for imports).

Exports and imports, Canada and the United States

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate for merchandise, and national sources for services. Index based on current US dollars, seasonally adjusted figures.

Brazil merchandise exports in November recorded a 5.7% rise, helped along by higher exports of coffee and metal ores (iron and copper). Imports into Brazil were up 17.2%, driven by electronics and skyrocketing soybean imports (which were 24 times higher in value terms and 20 times higher in volume terms in November 2020 than in the same month of last year). In October, Brazilian services exports increased by 1.6%, while imports declined by 1.6% despite a moderate pick-up in purchases of computer and business services.


In France, merchandise exports grew by 3.0% in October, driven by rising deliveries of transport equipment (aeronautics in particular). Imports rose by 1.3% (following flat growth in September), with increases in electronics, mobile phones and computer and parts. Exports of services also picked up in October (up 3.2%, following the 0.5% rise in September), sustained by strong sales of transport services (up 9.0%). Imports jumped by 9.1%, with purchases of services other than transport and travel bouncing back strongly (up around 15%). 

Stronger trade ties with China continued to impact positively on Germany’s merchandise trade, which recorded moderate growth in October (exports up 1.5%, imports 0.8%). While Germany’s main exports, machinery and transport equipment, continued to recover in the recent months, levels in these products still remain 10-20% lower than in 2019. Other products, most notably pharmaceuticals, have so far outperformed Germany’s traditional exports in terms of growth in 2020. Following flat growth in September, Germany’s exports of services expanded by 5.0% in October, boosted by strong sales of financial and business services. Imports, instead, continued to contract (minus 3.9% and minus 1.5% in October and September, respectively), on the back of falling travel imports (down 27.1% in October after the partial summer recovery). 

The United Kingdom recorded merchandise trade growth in October for both exports (7.5%) and imports (3.9%). Machinery and transport equipment was the main driver behind the increase for both flows, while continuing purchases of textiles (including masks and other personal protective equipment, mostly sourced from China) also contributed to the rise in imports. Conversely, services trade recorded negative growth in October, with exports and imports falling by 0.5% and 3.5%, respectively, reflecting stagnant trade in business and intellectual property services.

Exports and Imports, Germany and the United Kingdom

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate for merchandise, and national sources for services. Index based on current US dollars, seasonally adjusted figures.

Russia merchandise trade in October saw exports fall by 7.9% and imports rise by 1.7%. Ongoing depressed crude oil prices, led by low demand as the pandemic continues to weigh on the global economy, has resulted in Russian exports for October 2020 being similar to 2016/2017 levels. Following three consecutive months of growth, Russia’s exports of services decreased by 1.2% in October. Imports of services fell sharply (minus 9.7%), reflecting weak purchases of construction and business services.

Table 1: Merchandise trade for selected economies
Previous period growth rates in %

 Merchandise trade – selected economies, Previous period growth rate in %

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate. Growth rates refer to current US dollars, seasonally adjusted figures.

Table 2: Trade in services for selected economies

Previous period growth rates in %

Trade in services – selected economies, Previous period growth rate in %

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate based on national sources. Growth rates refer to current US dollars, seasonally adjusted figures.



Next publication date: 19 January 2021



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





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