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International trade statistics: trends in third quarter 2021


International trade continued to expand in the G20 in Q3 2021, as services pick up but merchandise trade growth slows

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23 Nov 2021 - G20 merchandise trade growth in value terms saw a marked slowdown in the third quarter of 2021, albeit levels remain at record high partly reflecting strong commodity prices. Surging shipping costs and a recovery in travel spurred faster growth in trade in services, with exports for the G20 nearing 2019 levels.

In Q3 2021 international merchandise trade for the G20 plateaued at a record high, following four quarters of sustained growth. G20 merchandise exports and imports increased by 0.9% and 0.4% in Q3 2021 compared with the previous quarter, as measured in seasonally-adjusted current US dollars. This represents a marked slowdown compared to the first half of the year, when rising commodity prices boosted the value of traded goods. Sustained demand for electronics and high energy prices continued to play a role in Q3 2021, while overstretched semiconductor supply-chains weighed on trade in vehicles and parts.

Growth in services exports and imports for the G20 is estimated at around 5.1% and 5.8% in Q3 2021, respectively, compared to the previous quarter and measured in seasonally adjusted US dollars. The preliminary estimates compare to the slower rates of 3.1% and 4.8% recorded in Q2 for exports and imports. With shipping costs peaking towards the end of the quarter, the value of transport services trade continued to soar in Q3, while a temporary improvement in the sanitary situation boosted travel, particularly in Europe. 

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

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 


Electronics (integrated circuits, mobile phones, displays and computers) continued to propel merchandise trade in East Asia in Q3 2021. Korean exports and imports rose by 5.6% and 4.6%, respectively, with exports of electric and hybrid cars at a record high despite the overall weak trend for vehicles and parts. Exports also expanded in China (up 1.6%), while imports decreased by 6.2% following double-digit growth in the first half of the year. Japanese imports rose by 3.9%, mainly led by energy products and pharmaceuticals, while exports declined by 0.3% due to lower shipments of vehicles. Metal ores and minerals drove Australia’s merchandise exports growth (up 3.6%), despite falling prices in September. Imports, instead, fell by 5.5%, as lockdowns in eastern Australia depressed the demand for fuel and energy products. India and Indonesia recorded solid export growth (up by 7.0% and 6.5% respectively).

In Europe, merchandise trade fell in Q3 compared to the previous quarter. Exports contracted by 0.5% in the European Union, with falling shipments of machinery and vehicles affecting in particular Germany (minus 1.9%) and Italy (minus 1.5%). Bucking this trend, French exports recorded a mild increase (up 1.0%). With the exception of Germany (minus 2.2%), imports of goods increased moderately across the region (up 0.4% for the European Union as a whole, 2.0% for Italy and 1.7% for France). Following double-digit expansion in Q2, exports contracted by 4.5% in the United Kingdom, partly reflecting lower shipments of pharmaceutical products compared with Q2. Similarly to continental Europe, imports rose marginally (0.6%).

In North America, energy products contributed to offset the sluggish trade in vehicles and parts. In the United States, merchandise exports and imports increased by 1.0% and 1.5%, while Canadian exports grew by 1.7% despite lower timber prices weighing on exports of forestry products. Mexican exports remained   flat (minus 0.2%), while imports expanded by 4.4%.

Cereals drove Argentina’s increase in merchandise exports (up 13.7%), while Brazilian exports and imports contracted by 7.1% and 1.5%, respectively, in Q3 2021, following double-digit growth in Q2.

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

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 Q3 2021 trade in services values are preliminary estimates based on available data, covering about 60% of exports and imports for the G20 aggregate. 


Services trade in Europe was boosted by a firm recovery in travel in Q3 2021, as the improvement in the sanitary situation fostered higher mobility within the region during the northern summer season. Travel receipts surged by 53.4% in France in Q3, accounting for most of the total increase in exports (6.4%). In Germany, services exports also picked up strongly (up by 8.5%), with imports jumping by 17.8% due to soaring purchases of travel (up by 160.5%). Again led by travel, Turkish exports rose by 8.0%, while transport and business services contributed to the surge in imports (up by 20.1%). In the United Kingdom, financial services explain most of the increase in total exports (up by 1.5%), while imports declined by 1.9%.  

Robust trade in transport and digitally‑deliverable services, such as computer and business services, continued to drive growth in services trade in East Asia. Exports from China and Korea soared in Q3 (up 13.5% and 10.9%, respectively), with freight transport accounting for a large part of the increase. Imports grew by 2.4% in China but declined slightly in Korea (minus 0.9%), the latter reflecting a slowdown relative to the spike recorded in Q2. Conversely, regional lockdown measures took a toll on services trade in Australia, with exports and imports down by 9.8% and 1.4%, respectively. Services trade also stalled in Japan, where exports increased marginally (0.4%) and imports contracted by 0.7% in Q3 2021.

Exports of services grew by 2.2% in the United States, led by intellectual property, business and financial services. Imports surged by 11.1%, with travel and transport accounting for much of the increase. Services trade also picked up in Canada (exports and imports up by 1.5% and 5.5%), while in Brazil exports grew by 3.6% and imports marginally declined (minus 0.5%).




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