Acceleration in merchandise trade bolsters recovery in G20 trade, but growth in services trade eases

Following a slow third quarter, G20 international merchandise trade accelerated in value terms in Q4 2021, partly due to high commodity prices, in particular for energy. While shipping costs kept the value of trade in transport services at record highs, trade in other services showed a slowdown notably in Europe, possibly reflecting a tightening of Covid-19 related restrictions towards the end of the year.

Growth in G20 international merchandise picked up in Q4 2021, with exports up 3.4 % and imports up 5.0 %, with respect to the previous quarter and measured in seasonally-adjusted current US dollars. This compares to the slower growth (1.5 % for exports and 0.9 % for imports) recorded in Q3 2021. Energy price increases continued to fuel merchandise trade growth in value terms, while pressure on supply chains, including for semiconductors, appears to have eased towards the end of the year.

Growth in exports and imports of services for the G20 is estimated at around 2.5% and 2.4% in Q4 2021, respectively, compared with the previous quarter and measured in seasonally-adjusted US dollars. The preliminary estimates compare to the rates of 3.8 % and 3.5 % recorded in Q3 2021 for exports and imports. Services trade continued to expand at a sustained pace in North America and most of East Asia, while growth slowed down in Europe.

In 2021, annual merchandise exports and imports for the G20 expanded by 25.9 % and 26.1 %, respectively, with values around 16% above their 2019 levels. While high commodity prices explain part of the increase, stimulus packages also played a role by spurring the demand for traded goods. Annual growth in exports and imports of services is estimated at around 15.0 % and 11.3 %, respectively. While transport costs skyrocketed, travel, which includes the expenditure of non-residents abroad, recovered but remained subdued. Trade in computer, business and financial services performed well across most of the G20 economies in 2021.

Services trade showed a mixed picture in Q4 2021. Following the expansion recorded in the previous two quarters, services trade in Europe slowed down in Q4 2021. Services exports increased by 1.8% in France, with weak sales of financial and insurance services partially offsetting growth in travel (up 15.9 %) and transport (up 4.3 %). German exports contracted by 2.3 %, while imports increased moderately by 1.2 %. The United Kingdom recorded a slowdown in both services exports (minus 2.4 %) and imports (minus 2.5 %), while exports and imports of Italy increased by 1.6 % and 3.6 %, respectively.

Turkey’strade in services continued to expand in Q4 2021. Exports grew by 4.0 %, while imports rose by 8.0 % reflecting strong purchases of computer and business services. Similarly, Russia’s services trade expanded markedly, with exports increasing by 8.4 % and imports surging by 19.4 %.

An easing of travel restrictions and high transport costs sustained trade in services growth in North America. The United States saw a 6.6 % rise in services exports, with travel and transport up by 39.4 % and 11.3 % in Q4 2021. Imports grew more moderately by 4.3 %. Similarly, Canada’s services exports and imports expanded by 6.5 % and 6.1 %, respectively, compared to the previous quarter.

Transport, computer and business services continued to boost trade in services growth across East Asia. Exports increased by 5.5 % in Korea, with construction, of which Korea is a leading exporter, picking up strongly (up 55.9 %) following three quarters of contraction. China also saw marked growth of 6.1 % in services exports, fuelled by higher sales of transport, computer and business services. Imports expanded by 4.6 % in Korea and by 3.8 % in China. Japan, on the contrary, experienced a decline in both services exports and imports (minus 3.9 % and minus 5.0 %, respectively), reflecting lower trade in all services but transport.

Owing to prolonged entry restrictions, which depressed travel receipts, services exports contracted further in Australia, recording a 4.9 % fall in Q4 2021. However, services imports increased by 4.9 % driven by transport (up 21.8 %). In Brazil, services exports grew by 0.7 %, while imports rose by 3.4 % on higher purchases of business and transport services.

For 2021 as a whole, most G20 economies showed a robust rebound in trade in services compared to the previous year, although in many cases values remain below pre-crisis (2019) levels due to subdued travel figures.Exports of services from Korea and China, up 34.8 % and 42.5 % in the year, respectively, are an exception: soaring transport receipts, as well as buoyant figures across all services, drove total exports well above their 2019 levels. Japanese exports and imports expanded more moderately over the year (up 4.2 % and 5.3 %, respectively), while strict travel restrictions continued to weigh heavily on Australia’s services exports (down 8.4 % compared to 2020). Services exports and imports increased by 8.6 % and 16.2 % in the United States, with financial and business services driving export growth, and transport and travel propelling import growth. In Europe, annual exports from France (up 18.0 %), Germany (up 15.6 %) and the United Kingdom (up 8.1 %) were all close to their 2019 levels, largely reflecting dynamic trade in business and financial services. With travel receipts twice as high as in 2020 (but still 30 % below their 2019 levels), Turkish exports of services jumped by 56.2 % in 2021.

G20 international merchandise trade

Percentage change on the previous period (current US dollars, seasonally adjusted)


G20 international merchandise trade

Current prices (billion US dollars), seasonally adjusted

G20 international trade in services

Percentage change on the previous period (current US dollars, seasonally adjusted)

G20 economies: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union (EU 27).

The G20 aggregate is derived from the seasonally adjusted data of the individual economies, converted to US dollars using period average exchange rates.

* Figures for the G20 aggregate and for the following economies are OECD preliminary estimates based on monthly national data: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.