International trade and balance of payments statistics

International Trade Pulse, OECD - Updated: January 2021


End of 2020 sees merchandise trade maintain momentum with trade in services improving

‌19 Jan 2021 - Despite a pickup in COVID-19 cases in Europe and the Americas, the recovery in international merchandise trade gained pace in November and December, once again boosted by ongoing demand for ‘lockdown goods’ and medical products. Reflecting strong global supply chain activity and rising prices, international trade in primary commodities also showed an uptick. International trade in services, while slowing down in Europe, started to rebound elsewhere with robust trade in computer and business services now accompanied by signs of recovery in transport and travel. 

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Fuelled by sustained demand for ‘lockdown goods’ (computers and home electronics), integrated circuits and COVID-19 protective gear, Chinese merchandise exports boomed in the second half of 2020, and are now almost 20% higher than in 2019. However, on a seasonally adjusted basis, exports slowed down in December (minus 2.1%), partly reflecting lower shipments of mobile phones. Having increased at a slower pace than exports in the latest months, imports increased by 0.8% in December, with purchases of metal ores, integrated circuits, cars and car parts accelerating. Chinese exports of services grew moderately in November (by 1.4%, following a decline of 7.3% in October), driven in particular by rising sales of transport and business services. Imports expanded by 5.4% in November, with strong purchases of transport, computer services, intellectual property and other business services counterbalancing the expected weak travel figures.

Exorts, Imports, China and Korea

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate for merchandise, and national sources for services. Index based on current US dollars, seasonally adjusted figures.
Note: For China, figures for January and February are OECD estimates based on cumulative values as compiled and disseminated by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics. 

Korean merchandise trade finished the year strongly. Exports in December surged by 10.8% and imports by 5.2%, following increases of 3.5% and 3.9% in November. Flows with the EU and the United States picked up, while trade with China remained robust. Overall, in 2020, exports of computers and parts increased by more than 50%, while COVID-19 diagnostic kits, semiconductors, electric vehicles, and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panels all recorded their highest annual export values on record. In the latest months of 2020 trade in services also performed relatively well in Korea, although 2020 levels remained almost 20% lower than in 2019. Exports expanded by 7.9% in November, with growth recorded in most services, particularly travel (up 24.7%) and construction (up 51.0%). Following the 5.8% fall in October, imports rebounded by 13.2% in November, driven by extensive purchases of telecommunication and computer services (up 76.9%), services related to intellectual property (up 43.9%) and business services (up 6.3%). 

Merchandise trade in Japan for November saw export growth virtually flat at 0.5%, with sluggish foreign demand for machinery and transport equipment affecting Japanese export growth more than other economies in the region. Imports fell by 3.2%, driven by weak purchases of energy products. Nevertheless, trade with China, Japan’s largest export market, continued to evolve positively. Like elsewhere in the region, Japanese international trade in services picked up in November, with exports and imports increasing by 3.7% and 7.2%, respectively. Exports of travel expanded by 19.3%, while telecommunication and computer services maintained momentum. On the imports side, insurance, intellectual property and business services were the main contributors to the overall increase. 

Australia recorded a 3.2% growth in merchandise exports in November, combined with stronger growth, by 16.6%, of imports. While agricultural products (cereals) drove the increase in exports, imports recorded solid growth in machinery, telecommunication equipment, and transport equipment. Australian trade in services also improved in November, with exports and imports increasing by 3.8% and 5.9%, respectively. While all services expanded compared to the previous month, imports of transport (up 13.7%) recorded particularly strong growth.


In November, merchandise exports and imports for the United States increased by 1.0% and 3.1%, respectively. While the latest export values are still around 10% lower than last year, imports are back to levels observed in 2019. Monthly export growth was led by natural gas and food and beverages, while high demand for mobile phones and other home electronics continued to support import growth. Bilateral trade recorded increases in exports to the European Union and South and Central America, while the bulk of the increase in imports originated from China. At the same time, trade in travel and transport services continued to recover, with exports in those categories up by 11.4% and 6.7%, respectively, and imports recording even faster growth (almost 20% for travel and 7.5% for transport). Yet, stagnant trade in other sectors weighed on overall growth, which settled at 1.5% and 2.4% respectively for exports and imports.

Exports, 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.

For Canada, merchandise trade growth was mild in November (exports up 1.3% and imports 0.2%), with flows in different products offsetting each other. Reflecting higher prices, exports of metal ores (copper and iron) and gold surged, while shipments of lumber and motor vehicles and parts fell in November 2020. On the imports side, industrial machinery declined following two months of growth, but this was offset by growth in aircraft and other transport equipment and parts. Exports and imports of services recorded growth rates of 2.1% and 1.0%, respectively, with volatility in transport and travel being somewhat mitigated by modest but steady growth in other services. 

Having increased by 5.7% in November 2020, Brazil’s merchandise exports contracted by 4.9% in December, led by declining shipments of grain, wood and meat (with middle eastern countries particularly reducing their imports of beef). Imports, however, increased by 17.2% in November and subsequently soared in December (up 32.6%), recording their highest monthly value since 2014. This was mostly the result of the purchase of oil extraction equipment, but also driven by higher purchases of aircraft and parts and pharmaceutical products (growth in the latter was likely aided by the government’s decision to extend a policy of zero import taxes on products considered essential to fight the pandemic). Boosted by strong purchases of transport and business services, Brazilian imports of services jumped 19.4% in November. Exports also expanded, by 8.1%, driven by robust sales of business services as well.


Merchandise trade showed signs of acceleration in November 2020 in Germany, with monthly exports up 2.3% and imports up 3.6%, slightly higher increases than the ones recorded in October. While some products, such as pharmaceuticals, expanded significantly in 2020, Germany’s traditional exports of machinery and transport equipment are still recovering and remain 10-20% lower than in 2019. Regarding bilateral flows, trade with the EU and the United States continued to recover in the last months of 2020, while trade with China neared 2019 levels for exports and exceeded those for imports. Following the 6.8% growth in October, Germany’s exports of services declined by 3.5% in November, with resilient sales of transport and other business services being offset by falling travel exports (minus 20.9%). Similarly, travel also slumped on the imports side (minus 35.9%) after a temporary pick-up over the summer, driving overall imports down (minus 7.2% in November).

Exports, 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.

As for the United Kingdom, merchandise exports and imports increased by 10.0% and 7.4%, respectively, in November. The uncertainty relating to the end of the EU exit transition generated international trade flows associated with stockpiling. Trade in machinery and transport equipment (especially cars and car parts) and pharmaceutical products appears to be affected, particularly on the imports side[1]. Mostly flat in the previous two months, exports of services picked up moderately in November (up 1.4%), while a small rebound was seen in imports (0.6%), following the negative growth numbers in October. 

In France, merchandise exports continued the recovery that started in May 2020 and grew by 1.3% in November, with rising shipments to China offsetting other bilateral falls in exports. Imports, which fell less sharply and recovered quicker after the April 2020 crash, increased 0.3% in November (with falling purchases of textile products, including masks, dragging down total imports). French exports of services, flat in October, fell by 4.8% in November despite transport being on a steady recovery trajectory since June. Following two months of expansion, imports also slipped by 8.8% in November. Plummeting travel, combined with stagnant trade in other services, contributed to the slowdown in both trade in services exports and imports.

Russian merchandise exports rebounded in November (up 6.8%), on the back of higher energy prices. Trade imports also increased by 6.1%. Conversely, exports of services declined in November (minus 2.0%), while imports, particularly business services, continued to expand (up 9.3%, following the 12.5% growth in October).


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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.

[1] These increases occurred before any border restrictions associated with variant COVID-19 strains were initiated.


The next and final edition of the International Trade Pulse is expected to be released early March 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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