Global trade in goods might be close to plateauing—albeit at a record level—amid an outlook clouded by regional imbalances and coronavirus outbreaks that slow economic activity, the World Trade Organization said.
The Geneva-based trade body’s goods trade barometer rose to 110.4 in March, the highest in records going back to 2016, according to a statement on the WTO website on Wednesday. It said that while the index is still above its longer-term average, the gains are decelerating, “which could presage a peaking of upward momentum in trade.”
Each of the gauge’s components—such as air freight, container shipping, raw materials and automotive products—showed above-trend growth. But the export orders index “has slowed more definitively, providing a further indication that the pace of recovery is likely to decelerate in the near term,” the organization said.
The WTO said the latest reading is consistent with its forecast from March 31 for an 8% increase in the volume of world merchandise trade in 2021 after a 5.3% drop in 2020.
“The outlook for world trade continues to be overshadowed by downside risks, including regional disparities, continued weakness in services trade, and lagging vaccination timetables, particularly in poor countries,” the WTO said. “Covid-19 continues to pose the greatest threat to the outlook for trade, as new waves of infection could easily undermine the recovery.”