By Sharon Atieno

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated trade in certain types of goods, it has encouraged trade in others, the Revised WTO Trade Forecast reveals.

As food is a necessity that continued to be produced and shipped even under the strictest lockdown conditions, trade in agricultural products declined less than the world average in the second quarter (-5% versus-21%).

Meanwhile, trade in fuels and mining products fell precipitously ( 38%) as prices collapsed and people consumed less owing to travel restrictions.

The drop in manufactured goods trade (-19%) was comparable to the decline in merchandise trade overall.

Trade in most manufactured goods bottomed out in April before starting to recover in May and June, however, the recovery was partial and incomplete.

Automotive products recorded the biggest decline of any category (-70% in April), partly as a result of supply disruptions and partly because of a lack of demand from consumers.

By June, automotive products trade had picked up to the point where it was only down 26% compared to the previous year. As for the whole of the second quarter, trade in this product group was down 53%.

Travel goods and handbags also recorded a steep decline in April since this category includes a large proportion of luxury goods, consumption of which tends to rise and fall in line with business cycles.

By June, trade in telecommunications equipment, which includes smart phones, had risen by 2% from the same period a year ago. Trade in other types of electronics also held up during the crisis as households, businesses and governments upgraded computers and information technology infrastructure to facilitate working from home.

Also, trade in pharmaceuticals rose during the pandemic as countries secured essential products from foreign suppliers. Trade in personal protective equipment (PPE) recorded explosive growth, up 92% in the second quarter and 122% in May. Facemasks traded at USD 71 billion, 87% rise compared to 2019.

Flights worldwide fell around 80% between early January and mid-April, with international flights declining more than domestic ones. Total flights have recorded a gradual recovery since then, rising to 57% of their level at the start of the year. The recovery has been stronger within the European Union, with intra-EU flights rising to 95% of the level in January.

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