Europe’s economy is probably entering a double-dip recession. The indications from world trade, as analysed previously, are so far that the world economy as a whole is facing slowdown but not renewed recession. However a detailed breakdown shows extreme unevenness in the trade recovery - with only Asia and Latin America surpassing pre-financial crisis levels. Regional trends for imports and exports, using a three month moving average to smooth short term fluctuations, are shown in Figures 1 and 2.
Considering trends in detail, pre-crisis world trade peaked in April 2008. In the latest month for which data is available, September 2011, world trade was 2.3 per cent above its pre-crisis maximum on individual month comparisons and 3.6 per cent above on a three monthly moving average.
Table 1 shows a detailed breakdown of trade since the financial crisis by region. This data shows that only in developing Asia and Latin America are both exports and imports clearly above pre-financial crisis levels. Taking three monthly moving averages, imports are up from pre-crisis levels by 16.7 per cent in developing Asia and 9.4 per cent in Latin America, with exports up 17.0 per cent in developing Asia and 6.9 per cent in Latin America. In the US exports are slightly above pre-crisis levels but imports are significantly below. In all other regions – the Euro area, Africa and the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and Japan – both exports and imports remain below pre-crisis levels.
The recovery of world trade to above pre-crisis levels is therefore due to the situation in two developing regions. The weakness of trade in the Euro area is worse than most regions, particularly in terms of imports, but not really exceptional. Trade in most areas of the world economy remains significantly below pre-crisis levels.
Trade with China
Among the largest economies the chief beneficiary of this pattern of world trade is China - although it is likely the pattern itself is in significant part a result of the dynamics of China's trade.
In the period between China's peak pre-crisis level of exports and imports, in July 2008, and September 2011 China's exports to Asian developing economies rose by 22.9 per cent and its imports from these economies rose 31.4 per cent. China's exports to Latin America rose by 53.0 per cent and its imports by 59.9 per cent. These are clearly exceptional growth rates. China is the main trade partner for most developing Asian economies as well as for a significant number of Latin American economies including Brazil.
The patterns of world trade since the financial crisis therefore indicate the consolidation of a dynamic trading interaction between China, developing Asia and Latin America. China's economy and trade is not yet sufficiently large to offset a global scale recession in the EU and/or US, but there is clear evidence that China's economy is sufficient to produce the most dynamic of post-crisis world trade interactions centred on Asia and Latin America.