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International trade statistics: trends in second quarter 2021


Value of G20 merchandise trade at new high in Q2 2021, trade in services growth gaining pace

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24 August 2021

Value of G20 merchandise trade at new high in Q2 2021 but signs of easing growth

The second quarter of 2021 saw international merchandise trade for the G20, as measured in seasonally adjusted current US dollars, reach a new high following the record levels already posted in Q1 2021. G20 merchandise exports and imports increased by 4.1% and 6.4% in Q2 2021 compared to the previous quarter, showing a slowdown compared with the rates posted in Q1 2021 (8.6% and 8.5% for exports and imports, respectively). Like in the previous quarter, rising commodity prices explain a large part of the increase, as congestion in international shipping and supply issues around semiconductors placed further pressure on the price of traded goods. 

The G20 economies more reliant on exports of primary commodities saw strong export growth in Q2 2021, a combination of increasing prices, limited global supply (e.g. copper) and strong demand (particularly from China, Japan and Korea). Australia’s exports increased 10.0% in Q2 2021, on the back of rising sales of cereals, metals and coal. Brazilian exports rose by 29.4%, driven by iron ores and soybeans. Russian exports grew 30.7% in Q2 2021, mostly benefiting from increasing energy prices.

Merchandise trade values in North America reached an all-time high in Q2 2021. Canada’s exports were up 4.7%, driven by energy and forestry products. Imports rose by 3.6%, with metals and pharmaceutical products playing a large part. Mexico also recorded solid growth in the quarter, exports up 3.3% and imports up 5.1%. The United States recorded growth of 6.8% for exports in Q2 2021, led by aircraft, pharmaceuticals and semiconductors and with strong demand from Canada and Mexico. Imports in the quarter rose 4.2%, with robust imports of mobile phones and despite sluggish purchases of vehicles.

European G20 economies saw international trade increase notably in aircraft, agriculture products and pharmaceuticals, fuelled in particular by demand from China and the United States. In Q2 2021 the European Union recorded export growth of 2.8% and import growth of 5.7% (France 1.3% and 2.9%, Germany 1.3% and 6.3%, and Italy 4.0% and 6.4%). In the United Kingdom, exports rose 12.3% and imports 11.3% in Q2 2021, a strong rebound following the Q1 slowdown.

The rise in commodity prices was a factor in imports increasing faster than exports in the East Asian G20 economies in Q2 2021. Exports from Japan and Korea grew by 2.7% and 2.2%, while imports rose by 7.4% and 11.8%, respectively, with trade in vehicles and parts driving the increase in particular for Korea. Following the staggering (18.6%) growth in the previous quarter, Chinese exports declined by 2.5% in Q2. Imports, instead, continued to expand (up 10.9%), with purchases of agricultural products, metals and semiconductors remaining strong. 

G20 merchandise trade
Based on figures in current prices (billion US dollars), seasonally adjusted

Quarterly levels                                                                 Quarter-on-quarter percentage changes

 G20 merchandise trade
Based on figures in current prices (billion US dollars), seasonally adjusted

Visit the interactive OECD Data to explore these data further 

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate 


G20 trade in services growth gaining pace in Q2 2021

Q2 2021 growth in services exports and imports for the G20 aggregate is estimated (based on preliminary information available for a subset of the G20 economies) at around 4.5% and 4.0%, respectively, compared to the previous quarter and measured in seasonally adjusted US dollars. This compares to the slower rate recorded in Q1 (2.9% for exports and imports). 

The further surge in shipping costs in Q2 2021 continued to boost trade in transport services across most G20 economies, while trade in digitally deliverable services, such as telecommunications, computer and business services, remained strong. Travel, although still severely affected by the COVID-19 containment measures and threatened by the emergence of variants, showed an uptick in Q2.

Exports of services from the United States and Canada grew by 3.6% and 1.7%, respectively, in Q2 2021. Imports recorded faster growth (7.2% and 8.0%), driven by travel in the UnitedStates and by financial services in Canada. Services trade in Brazil also experienced strong growth, with exports and imports expanding by 6.8% and 5.5%, respectively.

In Europe, both exports and imports of services picked up in Germany in Q2, up by respectively 4.2% and 5.4%, with imports fuelled by a nearly 30% increase in travel expenditure. Travel and financial services also boosted French exports of services (up 5.6%), while imports remained almost flat (up 0.4%) on lower purchases of transport services. Conversely, trade in services contracted in the United Kingdom (minus 0.4% and minus 2.2% for exports and imports). Russian exports rose 5.7% while imports contracted by 7.3% (due to a slowdown in purchases of business services). Turkey’s exports and imports increased by 5.8% and 2.3%.

With the exception of Australian exports (down 0.5%), trade in services continued to expand markedly in Asia‑Pacific. Exports and imports increased by 8.1% and 15.9%, respectively, in Korea, with a jump in travel imports (up 20.1%) adding to the continuing growth in business, telecommunication and computer services. Similarly, Japanese exports and imports rose by 4.7% and 8.4%, with travel and business services expanding at a faster rate on the import side. Chinese exports increased by 7.4%, largely driven by soaring transport receipts, while imports rose 2.3% on higher purchases of business and transport services. A partial and temporary border opening boosted Australia’s travel imports (4.5 times higher than in the previous quarter, but still at very low levels), which contributed to the 8.9% increase in imports of total services.

G20 trade in services
Based on figures in current prices (billion US dollars), seasonally adjusted

Quarterly levels                                                                       Quarter-on-quarter percentage changes

G20 trade in services
Based on figures in current prices (billion US dollars), seasonally adjusted

Visit the interactive OECD Data to explore these data further 

Source: OECD Statistics and Data Directorate and national sources. 

Note: The Q2 2021 trade in services values are preliminary estimates based on available data, covering about 60% of exports and imports for the G20 aggregate. 



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