8 September 2023

The world trade growth forecast for 2023, unveiled on Wednesday 5 April, is rather reassuring if we compare it to the pessimistic prognoses of recent months, and disappointing if we put it into perspective with the average of recent years. The economists of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are in any case much more optimistic than in October 2022 since they are counting on a growth in trade in goods in volume of 1.7% in 2023, against only 1% previously. .

A change mainly due to better growth prospects for gross domestic product in the European Union (up 0.7 percentage point), which should accelerate the rise in trade on the Old Continent. In the long term, this growth should however be well below that recorded in 2022 (2.7%) and the average of the past twelve years (2.6%), against a backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions, rising inflation and tighter monetary policies.

US Commerce Secretary Katherine Tai reiterated this to students at American University in Washington on Wednesday, April 5: “Commerce should work for the common good and help set responsible standards for labor, the environment, and other priorities that reflect American values”. It is no longer a question of working for free trade or the reduction of customs tariffs on a planetary scale, as was the case in the early 2000s during a period of accelerated globalization. Geopolitical rivalries have prevailed over the consensus of world trade driven by the opening of borders.

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The WTO also notes a much greater resilience of trade than expected on the “most of 2022, despite the pressure exerted by the war between Russia and Ukraine”. Looking at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region, which includes Russia and the former Soviet republics, WTO economists found that the decline in exports in the second quarter of 2022 compared to the previous one was not only 3% against a forecast estimate of 10.4%, “which suggests that the Russian Federation was able to find new markets for its goods despite the imposition of economic sanctions”.

Privileged geopolitical affinities

The organization had also noted in a study published in February that the most vulnerable countries had succeeded in substituting their purchases of agricultural commodities from Ukraine with other products or other importing countries, which, notes- she in passing, “would not have been possible without an open and inclusive multilateral trading system”. In other words, the best remedy for climate, health or geopolitical shocks is, according to the WTO, consultation and the lifting of customs barriers to promote the free movement of goods. A task made almost impossible in the current geopolitical context.

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