Global Trade Faces a Stagnant Decade Lagging the World Economy

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A tugboat operated by Svitzer A/S assists the CSCL Arctic Ocean container ship, operated by China Ocean Shipping Group Co. (COSCO), as it arrives at the Port of Felixstowe, owned by a unit of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., in Felixstowe, UK, on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Britain's trade deficit narrowed sharply after a slump in natural gas prices reduced import costs and a flurry of exports of aircraft and cars.


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A tugboat operated by Svitzer A/S assists the CSCL Arctic Ocean container ship, operated by China Ocean Shipping Group Co. (COSCO), as it arrives at the Port of Felixstowe, owned by a unit of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., in Felixstowe, UK, on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Britain’s trade deficit narrowed sharply after a slump in natural gas prices reduced import costs and a flurry of exports of aircraft and cars.

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International trade will grow more slowly than the global economy over most of the next decade as the war in Ukraine reshapes strategic alliances and alters the flow of cross-border commerce, a new report says.

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World trade’s annual expansion rate will average 2.3% through 2031, compared with an increase in global gross domestic product of 2.5% on average each year over the same period, according to forecasts from Boston Consulting Group. 

Trade largely tracked the growth rate of world GDP during the decade preceding the pandemic. So the report predicts the worst stretch of stagnant globalization since the World Trade Organization was established more than a quarter century ago.

“After nearly 30 years of a comparatively secure trade environment, we are in the midst of a new East versus West dynamic, with a US- and EU-led community and a China-Russia counterpart, along with the potential emergence of a third grouping of non-aligned nations,” said Nikolaus Lang, a BCG managing director and a coauthor of the report.

Four major supply chains have suffered from the war and from increased tensions between the US and China — energy, agriculture, industrial metals and semiconductors. Those explain about 80% of current inflationary price pressures, according to Lang.

“The move from global to more regional trade also generates diseconomies of scale which triggers higher prices,” Lang said in an email. “As the world adjusts, we expect inflationary pressures to reduce, but overall through 2023 and 2024 we will continue to see higher-than-normal inflation through this period of adjustment.”

Under the shakeout outlined by BCG, the next nine years of trade upheaval will create the following winners and losers:

The European Union will boost its trade with the US by $338 billion, driven largely by American energy exports to Europe, and will also expand its combined trade with Asean countries, Africa, the Middle East and India.Trade between the US and China will drop by $63 billionBetween the EU and China, trade growth will also decelerate, growing by just $72 billion, which BCG called “a modest increase compared with previous years.”Russia’s trade with China and India will grow by $110 billion, “including $90 billion with China alone” the consultancy saidSoutheast Asia will be the main winner, with an estimated $1 trillion in new trade tied largely to new commerce with China, Japan, the US, and the EUAsean trade with China will grow by $438 billion, the largest interregional advanceAdditional Reading: 

(Adds outlook on inflation in fifth and sixth paragraphs)

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