Source: WTO and World Bank.
World Merchandise Trade, 1960-2016
Global trade has grown both in absolute and relative terms, especially after 1990 where global exports surged in the wake of rapid industrialization in developing countries and the massive offshoring of manufacturing, particularly in China. The value of global exports first exceeded $US 1 trillion in 1977 and by 2008, more than 16 trillion current US dollars of merchandises were exported. During the same time period, the share of the world GDP accounted by merchandise trade, imports and exports combined, surged from 18% to 52%. This trend is correlated with a growth in volumes handled by international transportation, particularly by container shipping. Yet, this fast growth is skewed by the international division of production where parts can be traded several times before an assembled good is ready for final consumption. This is particularly the case for countries having a high level of economic integration such as for NAFTA (Canada, the United States and Mexico), or the European Union.
The growth of exports is indicative of a cycle where trade emerged (up the 1980), accelerated (1980-2000) and reached peak growth (2000-2008). Growth in trade was also accompanied by a surge in trade imbalances. Eventually a phase of maturity in global trade will be reached. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 was accompanied by a significant decline of global merchandise trade, close to 25% in just one year. The main factor behind this decline was a drop in the consumption of durable goods (e.g. furniture, appliances, cars) since consumers are able to postpone these type of purchases if they are uncertain about the future. Trade bounced back afterwards, mainly driven by emerging economies. However, since 2012 a peaking in global trade is observed with the value of exports leveling and then undertaking a decline.