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Navigating the Current Trends and Challenges of International Trade.

Global economies cannot ignore the importance of international trade.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), global merchandise trade grew by 9.8% in 2021, reaching a total value of US$ 22.4 trillion.

International trade is purchasing and selling goods and services by companies in different countries. It contributes to global efficiency by allowing countries to specialize in producing goods for which they have a comparative advantage and then engaging in trade for other products.

For businesses and consumers, international trade offers numerous benefits. For example, it allows businesses to access new markets and resources, expand their customer base, and reduce production costs by taking advantage of lower wages or more efficient production methods in other countries.

Consumers, on the other hand, benefit from increased choice and lower prices as a result of competition between businesses.

Furthermore, international trade has a significant impact on employment. The WTO reports that trade-related jobs account for approximately 23% of the global workforce, with the majority of these jobs in the services sector.

Given the critical role that international trade plays in the global economy, benefiting businesses, consumers, and workers alike, it's important to understand the specific benefits that it offers.

Let's explore some of the key advantages of international trade in greater detail.

Benefits of International Trade

  • Increased efficiency and productivity: According to the WTO, specialization and trade allow countries to produce goods and services more efficiently by taking advantage of their comparative advantages.

For example, China has become a global leader in manufacturing due to its lower wages and large-scale production capabilities, while Switzerland has become known for its precision engineering and high-end watchmaking. This specialization leads to increased productivity and cost savings for businesses.

  • Access to a wider range of goods and services: International trade allows countries to access goods and services that may not be available domestically, or may be available at a higher cost.

For example, countries with limited natural resources may import raw materials from other countries, while consumers can access a wider range of products from around the world.

  • Increased competition and lower prices: Competition from foreign producers can lead to lower prices and higher quality goods and services for consumers. This competition can also spur innovation and increase efficiency as businesses strive to stay competitive.

  • Economic growth and job creation: International trade can lead to economic growth and job creation by creating new market opportunities for businesses.

According to the WTO, countries that are more engaged in international trade tend to have higher levels of economic growth and lower rates of poverty.

  • Cultural exchange and mutual understanding: International trade promotes cultural exchange and mutual understanding between countries.

By trading goods and services, countries also share ideas, beliefs, and customs, which can help to build bridges between different cultures and promote greater understanding and tolerance.

Businesses benefit from international trade through increased potential customer base, meaning more profits and revenues, possibly less competition in a foreign market that hasn't been accessed as yet, diversification, and possible benefits through foreign exchange rates.

However, there are also criticisms of international trade due to the potential for exploitation of developing nations.

Challenges in International Trade

  • Trade barriers and protectionism: Despite efforts to reduce trade barriers, protectionism remains a significant challenge to international trade. According to the WTO, the average applied tariff rate for industrial goods was 7.5% in 2020, and non-tariff barriers such as quotas and technical regulations continue to be used by some countries to restrict imports.

  • Unequal distribution of benefits: The benefits of international trade are not always distributed equally among countries, businesses, and workers. Some countries may be better positioned to take advantage of trade opportunities, while others may struggle to compete. In addition, workers in industries that face increased competition from imports may experience job loss or wage stagnation.

  • Environmental and social impacts: International trade can have significant environmental and social impacts, particularly in developing countries. For example, increased trade in natural resources can lead to environmental degradation and the displacement of indigenous communities. Furthermore, some countries may not have the same labour and environmental standards as others, leading to concerns about worker exploitation and environmental harm.

  • Political and legal complexities: International trade involves a complex web of political and legal agreements, which can be difficult to navigate for businesses and governments alike. Trade disputes and disagreements over intellectual property rights, for example, can lead to costly legal battles and diplomatic tensions.

  • Technological disruptions: Advances in technology, such as automation and artificial intelligence, have the potential to disrupt traditional industries and supply chains, creating challenges for businesses and workers.

Addressing these challenges requires cooperation and collaboration among governments, businesses, and other stakeholders.

International trade is constantly evolving, and several current trends are shaping the global economy. Let's take a look at some of these trends in more detail.

Current Trends in International Trade

  • Digitalization and e-commerce: Digitalization and e-commerce have revolutionized the way that businesses trade internationally. According to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), global e-commerce sales grew by 4% in 2020 to reach $26.7 trillion.

This growth has been fueled by the increasing popularity of online shopping and the growth of digital payment platforms.

  • Regional trade agreements: Regional trade agreements, such as the recently signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between Asia-Pacific countries, are becoming increasingly popular.

These agreements aim to reduce trade barriers and increase economic cooperation between participating countries.

  • Sustainable trade practices: There is a growing emphasis on sustainable trade practices, with businesses and governments recognizing the importance of reducing their environmental footprint.

For example, the European Union's new trade policy, known as the "Green Deal," aims to make the EU's trade policies more environmentally friendly.

  • Emerging markets and global supply chains: Emerging markets, particularly in Asia, are becoming increasingly important players in global trade. This has led to the growth of global supply chains, with businesses seeking to take advantage of the lower costs and increased efficiency that these markets offer.

  • COVID-19 and its impact on trade: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on international trade, with disruptions to global supply chains and a decline in trade volumes.

According to the WTO, global merchandise trade fell by 5.3% in 2020, marking the largest decline since the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Source Report - WTO

As businesses and governments navigate these trends, it will be important to adapt to changing circumstances and find new ways to foster growth and cooperation in the global economy.

Future of International Trade

The future of international trade is a topic of much discussion and debate.

Some experts predict that globalization will continue to expand, while others believe that it may collapse or be replaced by more regionalized trade agreements.

However, there is ample evidence to suggest that greater trade openness has led to increased competition and lower costs across many countries.

Additionally, research shows that globalization has had both positive and negative consequences for economic growth, inequality, and the environment.

Moving forward, it will be essential for businesses, policymakers, and consumers to work together to promote a more open and inclusive global trading system.

This means reducing trade barriers and protectionism, ensuring that the benefits of trade are distributed more equally, and prioritizing sustainable and socially responsible trade practices.

With global supply chains evolving and new technologies emerging, international trade is likely to remain an important economic driver.



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