Trade figures: is globalisation taking hold?

Author:Vanquire, Lily
Position:Letter to the editor

In the week that George W Bush travels to Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Vietnam, and speculation mounts regarding the fate of the Doha round and whether the Apec meeting can kickstart the trade round into new life, I wanted to write to highlight the latest set of trade statistics to have been released by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). They make fascinating reading.

Are your readers aware, for example, that world exports as a proportion of GDP have risen from 20.5% in 1980 to 24.7% in 2000 and 28.5% in 2005? This leads me to think, at least, that the globalisation process is taking hold.

The WTO's annual statistical report reveals that the world's exports reached a staggering $12.5 trillion last year. This, I calculate, is nearly 30% of the $44.5 trillion of world GDP, based on currency comparisons, or about 20% of the world's $65 trillion GDP, based on purchasing-power-parity measurement. Either way, it is the largest ratio yet measured, nearly 50% above the 1980 level.

By product, the conventional division breaks the $12.5 trillion total into four parts. The largest chunk is, not surprisingly, $7.3 trillion in manufacturing exports, with $2.4 trillion in services second. Third and fourth are $1.75 trillion in natural-resource commodities (especially oil and gas, but also metal ores, salts, and the like) and $850bn in farm products.

Commodity trade has grown faster than any other sector in the past two years, but ominously for Africa, its peak may be only temporary.

China's industrial demand has driven resource prices to unlikely heights recently, for example since 2000 the prices of zinc, iron ore, copper, and silver have tripled, timber is up 25%, and oil and coal prices are double their new-millennium levels. Previous such price shocks led to conservation, recycling, and price drops. Perhaps this one will not, but one hopes that the African exporters of these products are saving some of the money they have been earning.

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Manufacturing trade continues to grow steadily. The $1.3 trillion in IT goods' exports represents a recovery from a sharp fall in 2001-2002. Textiles and clothes, at $500bn in exports, are shrinking as a percentage of manufacturing trade, as the end of textile quotas cuts store prices; the fastest-growing manufacturing export sector is scientific and technical instruments, now...

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