WTO informs policymakers for unresolved trade tensions

Trade weakness is likely to extend into the first quarter of 2019, said the World Trade Organization on Tuesday in its latest World Trade Outlook Indicator (WTOI), warning also of a potential further deterioration.

“The simultaneous decline of several trade-related indicators should put policymakers on guard for a sharper slowdown, should the current trade tensions remain unresolved,” said the WTO in a statement.

WTO trade indicator weakest since March 2010

The most recent WTOI reading of 96.3 is the weakest since March 2010 and below the baseline value of 100 for the index, signaling below-trend trade expansion into the first quarter.

Indices for export orders (95.3), international air freight (96.8), automobile production and sales (92.5), electronic components (88.7) and agricultural raw materials (94.3) have shown the most robust deviations from trend, approaching or surpassing previous lows since the financial crisis.

Politics could trigger swift rebound

Only the index for container port throughput remained relatively buoyant at 100.3, showing on-trend growth. “Trade growth is currently forecast to slow to 3.7 percent in 2019 from an expected 3.9 percent in 2018, but these estimates could be revised downward if trade conditions continue to deteriorate.”

The WTO said, however, greater certainty and improvement in the policy environment could trigger a swift rebound in trade growth. Designed to provide “real time” information on the trajectory of world trade relative to recent trends, the WTOI is not intended as a short-term forecast, although it indicates near future trade growth. It aims to identify turning points and gauge momentum in global trade growth.