Barometer points to services trade rebound in short run, long term outlook less clear

15 March 2021


After falling sharply during the global pandemic, world services trade appears to be in a recovery phase, according to the WTO’s Services Trade Barometer, which has recently risen firmly above trend. However, continued weakness in some sectors and an uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines cast some doubt on the durability of the recovery.

     Barometer points to services trade rebound in short run, long term outlook less clear

The services trade barometer is designed to highlight turning points and changing patterns in world services trade. The latest index reading of 104.7 is the strongest on record (in a series going back to 2000), well above the baseline value of 100 that denotes growth in line with recent trends. The new index reading is also significantly above the low point of 91.2 for the month of  March 2020, at the peak of lockdown measures associated with the pandemic. The strength of the rebound suggests that growth in world services trade accelerated in the fourth quarter of 2020 after bottoming out in the second quarter and picking up only slightly in the third. Momentum may not be sustained in the first quarter of 2021, however, as lockdown measures in response to the second wave of COVID-19 infections have continued to weigh on growth and employment in major economies since the start of the year.

The impact of the second wave is reflected in the barometer's component indices: persistent weakness in air transport (81.0) and a downturn in information and communications technology (ICT) services (93.7). International passenger flights, which will probably remain weak at least into the second quarter, could see a partial recovery in the third quarter if governments succeed in vaccinating large numbers of people against COVID-19; however, the spread of new variants could lead to new setbacks. The dip in the ICT index may also turn out to be temporary, as it appears to have been driven by stricter lockdowns in the US weighing on some computer services, while telecom services have remained steady.

In contrast, other component indices have all risen above trend, including the global services Purchasing Managers' Index (105.3), container shipping (104.3) and construction (106.3). The financial services index (119.9) had an especially strong showing, reflecting a rise in international financial transactions.

Unlike its counterpart for goods, fluctuations in the Services Trade Barometer tend to coincide with movements in actual trade flows rather than anticipating them. Readings of 100 indicate growth in line with medium-term trends. Readings greater than 100 suggest above-trend growth while those below 100 indicate the opposite.

The full Services Trade Barometer is available here.

Further details on the methodology are contained in the technical note here.


Kindly supplied by the WTO


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