Evidence of significant disruption to Asian supply chains related to the Covid-19 outbreak suggests that this downward trend is likely to continue into the first quarter of 2020.

All North American G20 economies saw international merchandise trade contract in the fourth quarter of 2019. Worst affected was Mexico, where exports reduced by 3.4% and imports by 3.2%. Canada recorded falls of 1.6% and 1.8% respectively, and the US saw falls of 0.6% and 3.2%.

Major European G20 economies had it a little better, with exports increasing in France (by 1.1%), Italy (1.0%) and, marginally, Germany (0.2%). Imports fell in France and Italy (by 0.8% and 2.3% respectively) but increased, again marginally, in Germany (by 0.2% - though German international trade remains around 6% below recent highs).

In the UK, on the back of a strong appreciation in Sterling against the US dollar in the fourth quarter, exports and imports both grew, by 2.4% and 1.1%, but fell on the previous quarter when measured in Sterling.

In Asia, the current Japan-Korea trade dispute continued to pressure international trade, with exports and imports falling significantly in both countries: in Japan (by 3.4% and 3.6% respectively) and in Korea (by 2.6% and 2.4%). Over the last two years, Korea has seen its exports contract by 12.3% and its imports by 8.0%.

In China, both exports and imports increased by 0.4% and 2.8% respectively. In India, exports grew by 2.8% while imports fell by 4.4%. In Indonesia, exports were unchanged while imports grew by 2.6%.

In South America, Argentina’s exports grew by 6.2%, however imports contracted strongly by 9.9%. Imports also contracted significantly in Brazil, by 8.1% (partly unwinding the 11.0% growth seen in the previous quarter), and exports also fell (by 1.5%).