World merchandise trade was down 3% in value terms last year, with clothing and textile exports falling in the first quarter, new figures show.
According to data contained in the latest edition of the World Trade Statistical Review, world merchandise trade in volume terms recorded a slight decline of 0.1% in 2019 after rising by 2.9% in the previous year. Trade was weighed down by political tensions and protectionist measures.
Merchandise trade is measured as the average of exports and imports. In value terms, trade declined by 3% compared with a 10.2% increase in 2018. Among the least developed countries, merchandise trade fell by 2% last year.
The economic slowdown, coupled with weaker demand, has taken its toll on the manufacturing of textiles and clothing, whose exports stagnated in 2019, the report notes.
China remained the top exporter of clothing last year with a value of US$152bn, but its share of the total market was down 4% to 30.8%. The European Union (EU), the second largest, saw its share remain the same at 27.6%, with a value of $136m.
Bangladesh was the third largest exporter of clothing in 2019, growing its share by 2% to 6.8%, with a value of $34bn. Vietnam and India were the fourth and fifth largest, respectively, growing their shares to 6.2% and 3.5%.
In terms of clothing imports, the EU was the largest, followed by the US, Japan, the UK and Hong Kong.
In the first quarter of 2020, however, preliminary data points to a contraction of 9% in trade in manufactured goods, with exports of clothing having declined by 12%.
The data also shows that global demand for clothing decreased by 37% in April year-on-year. Export orders of garments were cancelled, severely affecting providers of manufacturing services to the clothing industry. In Bangladesh, where clothing accounts for 33% of total exports, cancellations amounted to $3.18bn in April, with exports 81% lower than in April 2019.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to the deepest economic downturn of our lifetimes,” says World Trade Organization (WTO) director-general Roberto Azevêdo. “Output has plummeted, while job losses pile up. Trade has been severely disrupted by supply and demand shocks. A key challenge for policymakers will be to lay the foundations for a strong, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery as the health crisis recedes. To make the right decisions about how to guide the global economy to recovery, they will need reliable data.”