Last reviewed 11 January 2022

The volume of world merchandise trade fell 0.8% in the third quarter (Q3) of 2021 after four consecutive quarters of strong expansion, as supply chain disruptions, shortages of production inputs and rising Covid-19 cases weighed on trade growth.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), trade volume was still up 11.9% for the year-to-date through September, although this is slightly worse than its most recent trade forecast of 4 October, which anticipated a 12.7% rise over the same period.

The main reason for the dip in merchandise trade volume in the third quarter was weaker than forecasted imports in North America and Europe. This translated into reduced exports from those regions and also from Asia.

Imports declined by 0.5% in Europe in Q3 even though they had been expected to grow 2.6%.

In contrast to volume, the value of world merchandise trade continued to climb in Q3 as export and import prices rose sharply. World trade as measured by the average of exports and imports was up 24% year-on-year in the third quarter in nominal US dollar terms.

Weaker than the 46% jump in Q2, but stronger than the 15% increase in the first quarter, trade values were boosted by primary commodities including fuels prices of which more than doubled between Q3 of 2020 and the same quarter of 2021.

Meanwhile, food prices were up 23% and base metals were up 13% over the previous year. Prices of many manufactured goods have also risen, pushing up measured inflation in many economies.

On a positive note, the WTO highlights that measures to unblock container ports on the west coast of the United States have met with some success.

Charts showing some of the risks and challenges facing merchandise trade at the beginning of 2022, including waves of Covid-19 infection, global container throughput and the semiconductor shortage, can be found at www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/stat_20dec21_e.htm.