The World Trade Organization predicts global trade growth will slow sharply to 1 percent in 2023, down from the expected high of 3.5 percent this year.
WTO economists say trade has played a key role in keeping the global economy running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While merchandise trade plunged amid lockdowns in 2020, they note it subsequently rebounded, keeping the world supplied with food, medicine and other essential goods.
However, they say multipronged crises, including the pandemic, climate shocks and the war in Ukraine, continue to cause supply chain disruptions. Fiscal and monetary policies and inflationary pressures, they note, are causing energy and commodity prices to rise. They say low-income developing countries in particular face serious risks from insecurity and debt distress.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says most regions will likely register slightly positive export growth in 2023, with the exceptions of Africa and the Middle East. She expects both regions to experience negative export growth. World GDP next year is expected to slow to 2.3 percent, she says, down nearly a full percentage point from the WTO's previous estimate.
"Policymakers face unenviable choices as they attempt to find an optimal balance among fighting inflation, maintaining employment and advancing important policy goals such as the transition to cleaner energy," Okonjo-Iweala said. "Trade restrictions may be a tempting response to economic distress, but these would only deepen inflationary pressures and reduce living standards."
Okonjo-Iweala says free trade generates growth and can help keep prices from rising. For example, keeping markets open for food trade, she says, will increase the availability of essential foodstuffs and maintain downward pressure on prices.
"Our monitoring work on food trade has pointed to some recent backsliding on restrictions, so we need to remain vigilant," Okonjo-Iweala said. "Looking ahead, a better response to the supply chain vulnerabilities exposed by the past two years is to build a more diversified, less concentrated base for producing goods and services."
Diversification will boost economic growth and contribute to supply resilience and long-term price stability, she says, adding it also can help meet current and future economic challenges.