In 2021 international trade will restart by 7.6% in volume and the recovery will consolidate in 2022 with a further growth of 5.3%, bringing imports of the markets analysed back to the levels before the crisis. These are the data emerging from the 18th Report “Evolution of foreign trade by areas and sectors“ produced by ICE Agency in collaboration with Prometeia.
Trade in 2020
The year 2020 closed with a fall in world trade of just over 7% on an annual basis. International trade played a fundamental role in stemming the spread of the epidemic: in the last year, trade flows of emergency-related goods (from protective equipment to pharmaceutical products and medical/healthcare materials) grew in value by 17%. The sector most closely linked to emergency healthcare, pharmaceutical chemicals, has, in fact, experienced an 8% increase in international demand. On the other hand, there were downturns of more than 20% for sectors linked to mobility (Automotive and Other means of transport) or more than 10% for some technological sectors (Mechanics in particular) and consumer sectors (Fashion System and Furniture System), among those of particular importance for Italy.
The renewed need for greater domestic comfort highlighted by household appliances, together with the resilience of sectors such as the agri-food industry, have contributed to progressive upward revisions in forecasts for world trade in goods for 2020, which went from a prospect of a double-digit fall before the summer to a more moderate downturn in the second half of the year.
The megatrends: digitalisation, sustainability and innovation
As regards the different sectors, new themes will strengthen in 2021, which will condition foreign trade in both consumer goods and investment goods.
In the consumer goods sector, a return to the essential and to healthy aspects will favour Food and Furnishings in the Made in Italy sector (respectively +8.5% and +8.4% growth in 2021) but also a recovery, compared to the downturn in 2020, for the Fashion System, which is more linked to sociality (+6.7% the variation expected in 2021). The health aspects of consumption, for example, will be rewarding even after the health crisis has passed, keeping the agri-food chain among the most attractive ones. Among mobility-related sectors, after the sharp fall in 2020, demand will pick up again faster in the automotive sector.
In investment goods, however, there will be a growth in Mechanics, the first sector of national exports (+6.8% forecast for 2021 and a development rate of just over 5% in 2022), and in Electronics (+8.2%), a sector that has shown one of the best holdings even during the most acute phase of the crisis.
More than the sectors themselves, the strategies of those who focus on digitalisation, sustainability and innovation, the new paradigms that will guide industrial policies, production and consumption models in the post-Covid era, will be rewarded.
In detail, mature European markets, the traditional point of reference for Italian companies, are destined to partially recover in 2021 what was lost in 2020, and then exceed pre-crisis demand levels the following year. A more accelerated recovery characterises the North American area, which already in 2021 will exceed the import levels of 2019. The recovery times of other areas will be even faster, due to a less intense reduction in volumes during the 2020s (this is the case especially for mature and non-mature Asian countries) or an average more intense restart.
“Some encouraging signs are also coming from the data“ - says Carlo Ferro, President of ICE Agenzia. “Among the G8 countries, Italy is the second lowest in terms of exports and this contribution has helped to mitigate a stronger drop in domestic consumption. Moreover, despite the drop in exports, there are sectoral excellences, the 'export Oscars', which have performed positively on some markets, an indication of the ability of our supply chains to withstand unexpected shocks.“
In the photo, Flou's 2021 Colours and Materials Collection.