The World Trade Statistical Review 2020 from the World Trade Organization is an annual report which is mainly focused on detailed data for trade patterns from the previous year.
I find that it requires some mental effort to remember what the world economy looked like in 2019, but of course, trade tensions were already high. The value of global merchandise trade fell 3% in 2019--the first time it had fallen since the Great Recession years back in 2008-9--while the value of services trade rose 2.1%. However, this year's report also includes some preliminary data on how aspects of global trade have evolved since the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year. For example:
Here's a measure of the quantity of container shipping. Notice that the fall in the last few months is not (yet) as deep or severe as the decline during the Great Recession.
As one might expect, the number of commercial flights plummeted, falling by something like three-quarters in March 2020.
Tourism and travel is a major elements of international trade: for example, when a foreign traveler in the US spends money on US goods and services, it is treated in the trade statistics as an "export" of US production to a foreign consumer. The US typically runs a surplus in travel industry, with exports (blue line) well above imports (gray line), but both have dropped substantially in early 2020.
Finally, here are a couple of figures comparing national-level data on exports in April 2020 and on imports in March 2020 to the monthly data for a year earlier.
Those who believe that international trade is bad for the US economy should of course welcome the 2020 fall in trade as a silver lining in what is otherwise shaping up to be a dismal year for the economy. Or alternatively, they might reconsider the extent to which trade is the fundamental source of US economic problems or reducing trade is a useful solution to those problems.
A version of this article first appeared on Conversable Economist.
Timothy Taylor is an American economist. He is managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a quarterly academic journal produced at Macalester College and published by the American Economic Association. Taylor received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College and a master's degree in economics from Stanford University. At Stanford, he was winner of the award for excellent teaching in a large class (more than 30 students) given by the Associated Students of Stanford University. At Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Taylor has been a guest speaker for groups of teachers of high school economics, visiting diplomats from eastern Europe, talk-radio shows, and community groups. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News. He has published multiple lectures on economics through The Teaching Company. With Rudolph Penner and Isabel Sawhill, he is co-author of Updating America's Social Contract (2000), whose first chapter provided an early radical centrist perspective, "An Agenda for the Radical Middle". Taylor is also the author of The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works, published by the Penguin Group in 2012. The fourth edition of Taylor's Principles of Economics textbook was published by Textbook Media in 2017.