International trade and balance of payments statistics

International Trade Pulse, OECD - Updated: March 2021


International Trade in 2020: a look back and a look ahead

16 March 2021 - In 2020, global merchandise trade fell by 8% in current US dollar terms. The impact of the pandemic on international merchandise trade was, however, very heterogeneous across economies and products.

  • The automotive sector was hard hit, weighing in particular on exports from North America and Europe.

  • While trade in industrial machinery plunged, rising demand for lockdown goods and work-from-home equipment fuelled trade in computers and home electronics, boosting exports from China and Korea.

  • Trade in energy products collapsed due to low demand and prices, while metal ores soared.

  • Trade in pharmaceutical products was particularly dynamic in Europe, while Asia-Pacific dominated exports of COVID-19 related products.

Trade in services was harder hit by COVID-19 containment measures, with exports and imports contracting on average by 18% for the large traders selected here.

  • Travel, the hardest hit service category, shows no signs of returning to normal.

  • Passenger transport was heavily affected by the pandemic, while freight transport started recovering in the second half of 2020, particularly in Asia-Pacific.

  • Trade in digitally-deliverable services held up relatively well. Telecommunications, computer and information services and business services performed particularly well in Asia-Pacific, whereas financial and insurance services expanded significantly in Europe.

In January and February 2021, merchandise trade continued to expand across all regions (where data are available). Electronics and COVID-19 medical products drove exports from China, Korea and Japan, while energy and mining products sustained exports from the United States, Canada, Australia and Brazil. Trade in services, instead, remained mostly subdued in early 2021.

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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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