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Covid Crisis Drives Historic Drop in Global Trade

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Global trade flows collapsed in the spring, marking the largest fall in two decades, as coronavirus lockdowns disrupted air and sea transport and dealt a blow to the demand for many consumer and investment goods.

In more recent weeks, signs have emerged of a rebound in the movement of goods across national borders. But the enormous economic and social disruptions caused by the pandemic are expected to reshape global trade in the longer term.

Global trade had weakened before the crisis, hobbled by trade tensions and fresh tariffs. Coming on top of those disruptions, the pandemic has raised fresh questions about the resilience of supply chains that stretch across the globe and drive a third of world trade.

Now, some governments—stung by shortages of domestically made medical supplies when the coronavirus hit and worried about a reliance on Chinese-made products—are advocating the erection of trade barriers and are pushing to bring manufacturing home, in what could be a rebalancing of world trade after the global health crisis abates.

The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis on Tuesday said flows of goods across borders were 12.5% lower in the three months through June than in the first quarter of the year. That was the largest drop since records began in 2000, exceeding the hit to trade in the wake of the global financial crisis.

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