Key Statistics and Trends in Trade Policy: Trade Imbalances

During the last decade international trade has been characterized by a progressive shift in the use of trade policy instruments. Tariffs have remained substantially stable during the last few years with tariff protection remaining a critical factor only in certain sectors in a limited number of markets. On the other hand, the use of regulatory measures and other non-tariff measures such as antidumping has become more widespread. Recent years have also been characterized by substantial movements in some of the major currencies.

As of 2016, developed countries' import restrictiveness was at an average of about 1.2 per cent. However, import restrictiveness remained higher in many developing countries, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan African countries. Although low on average, tariffs remain relatively high in some sectors. Moreover, tariff peaks are present in important sectors, including some of key interest to low income countries such as agriculture, apparel, textiles and leather products. Tariffs also remain substantial for most South–South trade.

As of 2016, international trade is subject to and influenced by a wide array of policies and instruments reaching beyond tariffs. Technical measures and requirements regulate about two thirds of world trade, while various forms of sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) are applied to almost all of agricultural trade. The past few years have also seen a general increase in the use of trade defence measures within the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework.

In spite of the current debate on trade agreements, the process of deeper economic integration has remained strong at the regional and bilateral level even in 2016, with an increasing number of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) being negotiated and implemented. Most of the recent PTAs address not only goods but also services and increasingly deal with rules beyond reciprocal tariff concessions to cover a wide range of behind the border issues.

As of 2016, about half of world trade has occurred under some form of PTAs. The economic turbulence of recent years has been reflected in exchange rate markets, both for developing and developed countries’ currencies. Exchange rate movements are playing an important role in shaping international trade in the last few years as they have influenced countries’ external competitiveness. The value of the United States dollar remained strong, continuing to appreciate against a large number of currencies.

This report is structured in two parts. The first part presents a discussion on trade balances. The second part discusses trends in selected trade policy instruments including illustrative statistics. The second part is divided into five chapters: tariffs, trade agreements, non-tariff measures, trade defence measures, and exchange rates. Trade trends and statistics are provided at various levels of aggregation illustrating the use of the trade policy measures across economic sectors and geographic regions.

Full Report

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