FlyTitle: World trade
If you thought the trade war was bad for cross-border commerce…
CONTAINER-SHIP navigators, box-ticking customs officials, logistics wizards, truck drivers and warehouse nightwatchmen: all are familiar with dealing with glitches involving international trade, from strikes to trade wars. But with forecasters predicting a slump in global GDP this year, even their most creative thinking cannot keep $25trn of goods and services flowing around the world.
Trade is the conduit through which economic pain passes from one country to another. Even simple products rely on elaborate supply chains: a humble cup of coffee requires 29 firms to collaborate across 18 countries, according to one estimate. Shocks convulse in either direction. A port closure or customs delay can cripple production elsewhere. If consumers stop buying cars and phones, manufacturers and workers in distant lands feel the pinch.
When world output, at purchasing-power parity, fell by 0.1% in 2009, trade volumes collapsed by a whopping 13%. Quarterly volumes fell by even more (see chart). Weaker demand in America and the European Union rippled along trade routes to Canada, China, emerging Asia, Japan and Mexico. One study finds that 27% of the decline in American demand and 18% of that in the European Union was borne by foreign producers.
The shock coming this year threatens to be far more brutal. When one of the world’s economic giants sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. Now everyone is coughing. Factory closures are being exacerbated by a rise in trade barriers. And global demand is plummeting as households’ incomes dry up and cash-strapped firms put their investment plans on ice.
At first the virus infected manufacturing in China, which typically supplies nearly 10% of the world’s intermediate-goods trade. The dollar value of Chinese exports in January and February was 17% below what it was a year earlier (though American tariffs may also have contributed to the weakness). As delivery times stretched out for longer and longer, companies had to pause production for lack of components.
Now factories across Europe, North America and Asia must cope not only with uncertain supplies of parts from China but also with sick workers and a dizzying array of local and national shutdowns. Audrey Ross of Orchard International, a company based in Canada that trades products including mascara and bath sponges, says planning has become a nightmare. One customer in Germany is closed; another in France is open. Warehouses in America have shorter opening hours. Diversifying away from China had at first seemed like a sensible strategy. Now nowhere is safe.
现在，欧洲、北美和亚洲的工厂不但要应对中国零部件供应的不稳定，还要应对工人生病以及层出不穷的地方和全国性停工。总部位于加拿大的奥产国际（Orchard International）公司做睫毛膏和沐浴海绵等产品的贸易。该公司的奥黛丽·罗斯（Audrey Ross）说，做规划已经成了一场噩梦。德国的一个客户关门了，另一家在法国的还开着，美国的仓库上班时间缩短了。刚开始，把供应链从中国转移出去的多样化调整似乎是个明智的策略。现在，没有地方是安全的。
To make matters worse, barriers to trade are going up. More than 50 governments have restricted exports of medical supplies, 33 of which acted after the beginning of March. Tourism has been crushed—it accounts for 8% of global services trade. Flight cancellations have seen the cost of air freight, much of which goes in the belly of passenger jets, soar. Vaughn Moore of AIT Worldwide Logistics, a freight-forwarding company, reports that rates have risen from $2-3 per kilo to $9-11, which for some goods is prohibitively expensive.
雪上加霜的是，贸易壁垒正在上升。50多个国家的政府已经限制了医疗用品的出口，其中33个是在3月初后采取了行动。旅游业遭到碾压，它占到全球服务贸易的8%。航班取消已经导致航空货运（大部分通过客机腹舱运送）的成本暴涨。货运代理公司AIT全球物流（AIT Worldwide Logistics）的沃恩·摩尔（Vaughn Moore）报告说，运费已从每公斤两三美元涨到9到11美元，对于某些商品来说这无法承受。
Land borders are becoming harder to cross too. Countries from America to Armenia have placed new restrictions on free movement. In almost all cases there are meant to be exceptions for people transporting goods. But haphazard implementation has led to queues that stretch for miles. On March 15th the Italian transport minister had to call her Hungarian counterpart to request that a blockade be removed. Restricted border crossings have in some cases made it hard for drivers to get to work. “Everybody wants to do their own thing,” grumbles Umberto de Pretto of the International Road Transport Union. “If road transport stops the world stops.”
陆地边境也越来越难跨越。从美国到亚美尼亚的多个国家都对人员自由流动设置了新限制。在几乎所有情况中，运输货物的人员本应是例外。然而，由于实施方面的杂乱无章，等候过境的长队已经绵延几英里。3月15日，意大利运输部长不得不致电匈牙利运输部长要求解除一处封锁。在某些情况下，过境限制让驾驶员难以工作。“每个人都想做自己的事，”国际公路运输联盟（International Road Transport Union）的翁贝托·德普雷托（Umberto de Pretto）抱怨道，“如果公路运输停了，世界也停了。”
Bunged-up borders mean that it gets harder to refill empty supermarket shelves as people stockpile food, and to meet rocketing demand for medical equipment. Mario Aronovich, a customs broker in Mexico, remembers receiving calls when the crisis started about whether it was possible to export medical masks from Mexico to China. Now he is getting calls about trade in the opposite direction.
So just how big will the drop in overall trade be? In 2009 declining demand accounted for over two-thirds of the crash in trade, a far bigger share than the 15-20% caused by the credit crunch. The extent of the pandemic-induced slowdown in consumer spending and investment is already becoming clear. And it has already dented trade activity badly—a survey of factory bosses in March suggests sharp falls in export orders in advanced countries. Simon Macadam of Capital Economics, a consultancy, has pencilled in a 20% drop in trade volumes this year. That is bigger than in 2009. The drop in trade could be worse if the most pessimistic forecasts of jaw-dropping double-digit year-on-year declines in GDP in some rich countries over the next quarter or two come true.
那么总体贸易的下降幅度到底会有多大？2009年时，贸易暴跌有超过三分之二是由需求下降引起的，远超过由信贷紧缩造成的15%到20%的比例。大流行病引发的消费者支出和投资放缓的程度正变得清晰。而这已经严重削弱了贸易活动：3月份对工厂老板的一项调查显示，发达国家的出口订单急剧下降。咨询公司凯投宏观（Capital Economics）的西蒙·麦卡丹（Simon Macadam）预计今年贸易额将下降20%。这要大于2009年的跌幅。根据最悲观的预测，在接下来的一两个季度，某些富裕国家的GDP同比降幅将达到令人错愕的两位数。如果这变成现实，那么贸易下降的程度还会更糟。
A lesson from 2009 is that trade bounces back. Some of the precipitous drop then reflected companies drawing down their inventories; that reversed quickly enough when things returned to normal. Gloomier types point out the colossal uncertainty about when the rebound might come. Trade thrives on trust and predictability. Today, with supply chains buckling and borders closing, both are in short supply. ■