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Will Brexit affect our position in the World Trade Organisation (WTO)? What benefits do we have from being in the World Trade Organisation? 

DPP Business & Tax have used a number of various resources to research and compile a comprehensive data source of World Trade Organisation statistics (2019). They include WTO export statistics, WTO trade statistics and WTO tourism statistics. 

Below, we’ll study the WTO statistics of 2019, examining current trade activity and forecasts.

Key WTO Statistics

  • Member nations of the WTO accounted for 98% of world trade in 2017.
  • 123 nations originally signed the “Marrakesh Agreement” which commenced the WTO. There are now 164 member nations and 23 observer governments.
  • The World Trade Outlook Indicator’s most recent reading in February 2019 is the weakest since March 2010 and below the baseline value of 100 for the index.
  • However, world merchandise trade volume is forecast to grow 2.6% in 2019, accompanied by GDP growth of 2.6%
  • A no-deal Brexit is likely to result in the average tariff faced by the EU to the UK standing at 4.1%, while the UK to EU trade would be subject to 5.7%

WTO Trade Statistics 2019 – The State Of Components In 2019

Possibly as a result of heightened trade tensions globally, numerous components of February’s WTOI (World Trade Outlook Indicator) reading revealed a steep decline. 

This resulted in the overall figure – 96.3 – being the weakest since March 2010. It is worth noting that WTOI readings of 100 indicate growth in line with medium-term trends; readings greater than 100 suggest above-trend growth, while those below 100 indicate below trend growth.

Only the container port industry showed signs of healthy growth at 100.3. Other components have given below-trend readings, many of which approach or fall below previous lows since the financial crisis, they include:

  • International air freight (96.8)
  • Export orders (95.3)
  • Agricultural raw materials (94.3)
  • Automobile production and sales (92.5)
  • Electronic components (88.7)

However, below-trend growth in an index does not necessarily imply a decline in the underlying data.

What Might Have Affected The Decline Of These Trades?

There are numerous temporary factors that may have affected the levels of many of the aforementioned indices. 

For example, the container port figures may have been influenced by front-loading of imports ahead of anticipated US-China tariffs, while automobile production and sales may have been negatively affected by technical problems within the German automotive sector.

2018 WTO Trade Statistics – How Things Stood In 2018

Last years’ WTOI readings were directly affected by a diverse array of elements. For example:

  • Weak import demand in Europe and Asia dampened global trade volume growth due to the large share of these regions in world trade.
  • The value of merchandise trade rose 10% to US$19.48 trillion, partly due to higher energy prices.
  • The value of commercial services trade rose 8% to $5.80 trillion, driven by strong import growth in Asia.

Escalating trade disputes and tighter credit market conditions also influenced the WTO to downgrade its forecast in September 2018.

WTO Trade Statistics Forecast – Predictions For 2019

There are a number of positive predictions of note when considering the WTO statistics of 2019. 

These include:

  • The fact that world merchandise trade volume is forecast to grow 2.6% in 2019, accompanied by GDP growth of 2.6%.
  • The prediction that trade growth should pick up to 3.0% in 2020 with GDP growth steady at 2.6%.

Currently, growth is forecast to slow to 3.7% in 2019 from 3.9% in 2018. However, should the current environment of uncertainty and trade dispute continue, this figure may fall lower.

On the other hand, should the policy environment, the level of certainty and the current disputes within world trade improve and relax, it is likely that we will see a return to normal trends.

Will Brexit Affect Trade? – The Volume Of Trade Outside Of The EU Agreement

One of the benefits of WTO membership is access to reduced tariffs and the use of trade barriers through regional trade agreements such as customs unions and free trade areas. While these benefits remain in place, the WTO now chiefly focuses on assisting its members to lower or remove non-tariff barriers.

In the UK, tariffs usually measure around 3% of imports. However, while non-tariff barriers are difficult to estimate, it is predicted that under basic WTO terms, non-tariff barriers would cost the UK the equivalent of a tariff of 5% to over 20%, depending on the sector in question.

What Will Happen To Trade After Brexit?

Following Brexit, there are a number of possible options regarding trade tariffs. The Basic WTO terms – as described above – is the most costly of those options. On the other hand, EEA (European Economic Area) terms would provide the lowest barriers to trade. 

What’s The Impact Of WTO Trade On The UK Economy?

Below, you can see a forecast of the outcomes of the implementation of Basic WTO following Brexit:

  • Reductions in overall exports of 12% to 13% (£72bn to £78bn)
  • Loss in GDP of 2.4% to 3.9% (£48bn to £78bn)
  • Long-running job losses of 0.8 million to 1.3 million (assuming wages and productivity remain unchanged). 
  • Drop in average household income of £800 to £1300 from 2017 figures (when the average was £33k)

What Might Happen To Trade Tariffs In A No-Deal Brexit Scenario?

According to “The product and sector level impact of a hard Brexit across the EU” – a paper written by Martina Lawless and Edgar L.W. Morgenroth for the Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences in December 2018, the tariff figures the UK may face under a no-deal Brexit range widely. 

While agricultural goods and similar products face very high tariffs, cars and car parts face tariffs of about 7% and pharmaceutical and chemical goods face almost none at all.

In terms of countries to export to, if the UK were subject to WTO terms following a no deal Brexit, we may face tariffs as low as 2% for exports to Luxembourg, or up to 11.5% for exports to Ireland.

Notably, a no-deal Brexit is likely to result in the average tariff faced by the EU to the UK standing at 4.1%, while the UK to EU trade would be subject to 5.7%

Depending on the price increases caused by international tariffs, and the sensitivity of each product to price changes, the median figure calculated within the aforementioned paper represents a 30% fall in EU to UK trade and a 22% in the UK to EU trade.

While countries such as Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Cyprus would see a moderate drop in exports to the UK – a fall of between 6 and 11%, others – like Denmark, Romania, Spain and Slovakia are likely to see a drop of between 40 and 59%.

The countries most affected by high trade tariffs – including weight based tariffs – will be those involved in food and agriculture-based trade with the UK.

The UK government is working to put temporary arrangements in place whereby 87% of imports by value would be tariff free following a no-deal Brexit.

Which Countries Do The UK Trade With The Most?

Of all EU member states, the UK does the majority of its trade with:

  • Germany (EU exports: 9.2%, EU imports: 12.2%
  • France (EU exports: 6.6%, EU imports: 6.4%)
  • The Netherlands (EU exports: 6.3%, EU imports: 7.3%)
  • Ireland (EU exports: 5.5%, EU imports: 3.4%)

What Tariffs Are Faced By Non-EU Countries Exporting To EU Countries?

Typical tariffs faced by non-EU countries exporting certain products to EU countries are as follows:

  • Animal products: 15.7%
  • Dairy products: 35.4%
  • Fruit, vegetables and plants: 10.5%
  • Coffee or tea: 6.1%
  • Cereals and preparations: 12.8%
  • Oilseeds, fats and oils: 5.6%
  • Sugars and confectionary: 23.6%
  • Beverages and tobacco: 19.6%
  • Cotton: 0.0%
  • Other agricultural products: 3.6%
  • Fish and fish products: 12.0%
  • Minerals and metals: 2.0%
  • Petroleum: 2.5%
  • Chemicals: 4.5%
  • Wood, paper etc.: 0.9%
  • Textiles: 6.5%
  • Clothing: 11.5%
  • Leather, footwear etc.: 4.1%
  • Non-electrical machinery: 1.9%
  • Electrical machinery: 2.8%
  • Transport equipment: 4.3%
  • Other manufactures: 2.6%

According to UN research, non-EU countries such as China, the US and Japan are likely to benefit from a no deal scenario. China’s exports to the UK may increase by up to $10.2 billion and the US may export an additional $5.3 billion, while Japan’s UK-bound exports are likely to rise by $4.9 billion.

In particular, the US and Japan are likely to actively compete for favoured nation tariffs from the UK. 

However, no deal will also have a profound negative effect on other countries – with Turkey facing a drop of approximately $2.4 billion worth of UK exports.

Summary of Trade With EU and Non-EU Countries

From 1999 to 2017, exports from the UK to the EU rose in value by £140.7 billion. Imports from the EU to the UK have also grown – by around £195.8 billion.

Over that same period of time, UK exports to non-EU countries rose by £231 billion, and non-EU imports to the UK increased by £186.9 billion.

In 2017, the UK exported £274 billion worth of goods and services to EU member states, and imported £341 billion worth from the EEA. To non-EU territories, the UK exported £341.9 billion of goods and services, and imported £300.8 billion worth.

In total, the UK exported a value of £67.9 billion more to non-EU countries than to EU member states, while importing a value of £40.2 more from the EU than from other countries.

What Are The Most Favoured Nation Tariffs (MFN)?

Most Favoured Nation (MFN) tariffs are imposed from one member of the WTO to another, unless they already have a specific trade agreement in place – such as a free trade area or customs union).

All EU member states are subject to a MFN rate of 5.01%, while those with an average MFN tariff of below 5% include:

  • The US
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Iceland
  • Peru
  • Ukraine

Much of South America, along with India, a large proportion of Africa, Turkey and Madagascar, face tariffs of over 13%. India’s is one of the highest at 13.79%.

What Are The Top Commercial Products Traded In The EU And USA?

As of 2017, the top commercial products that the EU and USA traded with other countries were as follows –

Exports ($395 billion in total):

  • Cars: 11%
  • Packaged Medicaments: 4.7%
  • Crude Petroleum: 4.5%
  • Gold: 4.1%
  • Gas turbines: 3.7%
  • Refined petroleum: 3.3%
  • Aircraft parts: 2.5%
  • Hard liquor: 2%

The top five countries or territories to which EU member states exports commercial services are:

  • Other EU member states (55.6% of EU exports)
  • The US (11.5% of EU exports)
  • Switzerland (6.1% of EU exports)
  • China (2.0% of EU exports)
  • Japan (1.6% of EU exports)

The EU receives the majority of its imports from:

  • Other EU member states (57.7% of EU imports)
  • The US (13.0% of EU imports)
  • Switzerland (5.6% of EU imports)
  • China (1.8% of EU imports)
  • Singapore (1.3% of EU imports)

The US, on the other hand, exports the highest number of commercial services to the following countries and territories:

  • The EU (31.4% of US exports)
  • China (7.3% of US exports)
  • Canada (7.3% of US exports)
  • Japan (5.9% of US exports)
  • Switzerland (4.4% of US exports)

It also imports the highest number from the following countries and territories:

  • The EU (34.8% of US imports)
  • Canada (6.1% of US imports)
  • Japan (5.7% % of US imports)
  • India (5.3% of US imports)
  • Bermuda (5.1% of US imports)

Global Trade Statistics – What’s The Increase In Exports?

WTO statistics in 2019 allow us to look back over the swift growth of individual trading powers. The approximate increase in the total merchandise exports to the rest of the world from individual leading countries has been as follows:

2009

China: $1.2 trillion

The US: $1.06 trillion

Germany: $1.1 trillion

2014

China: $2.4 trillion

The US: $1.6 trillion

Germany: $1.5 trillion

2018

China: $2.49 trillion

The US: $1.66 trillion

Germany: $1.55 trillion

In terms of merchandise imports, the US is the clear leader – as evidenced below:

2009

The US: $1.6 trillion

China: $1 trillion

Germany: $ 999 billion

2014

The US: $2.45 trillion

China: $1.98 trillion

Germany: $1.2 trillion

2018

The US: $2.6 trillion

China: $2.13 trillion

Germany: $1.3 trillion

In terms of commercial exports, the US leads by a great distance – having exported $808 billion worth of commercial goods in 2018. The UK follows – albeit at a considerable distance, never quite hitting half of what the US achieves. After the UK come Germany, France and China, respectively, the latter of which has increased its exports in this field considerably since 2009.

Commercial imports, however, are dominated by both the US and China, with the latter never quite reaching the level of the former. China saw $520 billion in commercial services imports in 2018 and the US saw $536 billion. In the same year, the UK imported only $229 billion worth of commercial services.

WTO Tourism Statistics

There is a clear answer regarding which country has the most tourist exportation. According to WTO tourism statistics and data from UNWTO (the World Tourism Organisation), China sees the most expenditure on international travel by a long way. From 2006 to 2016, China’s tourism exports went from $24 billion (3% of the world’s total) to $261 billion (21% of the world’s international tourism spending). The US follows, with 10.5% of the global total. 

According to UNWTO, $1.3 trillion was received through global tourism in 2017.

Which Country Has The Most Tourism?

WTO tourism statistics focusing on imports state that France is the most popular destination for tourists, followed by Spain and the US. In fourth place is China and in fifth is Italy.

In Asia, every leading travel exporter saw increases in 2017, save for China.

Between 2016 and 2017, the UK dropped from sixth to seventh place. In 2018, 37.9 million overseas visitors came to the UK in 2018 and spent £22.9 billion.

According to WTO tourism statistics, a particularly notable change occurred between 2016 and 2017 in Africa – the continent saw destinations such as Egypt rise again in popularity after terrorist attacks saw a significant drop-off. Egypt experienced an increase in tourism exports of around 194%, while travel receipts in Morocco increased by 14%, and Tunisia also experienced a recovery. Overall, following its 2015-16 decline, Africa was subject to an increase in travel receipts of around 25%.

WTO Textile Statistics

WTO textile statistics state that in 2017, around 4% of the world’s merchandise exports consisted of this particular form of merchandise.

China and the European Union represent the biggest exporters, standing at $110 billion and $69 billion worth of exports respectively as of 2017. WTO textile statistics reveal the next biggest exporter as the EU-Extra, responsible for $21 billion worth of outbound products, and India, which exported $17 billion. The US followed with $14 billion.

WTO Manufactures Export Statistics

Manufactures make up 70% of world merchandise exports. This can be broken down into:

  • Iron and steel (2%)
  • Chemicals (12%)
  • Office and telecom equipment (11%)
  • Automotives (9%)
  • Clothing and textile (4%)
  • Other manufactured goods (32%)

Fuels and mining products make up another 15%, and agricultural products follow at 10%. The remaining 5% is made up by other or non-specified exports.

What Are The Top Ten Global Exporters?

Below are the top ten global exporters, according to our WTO statistics and research:

  1. China
  2. The US
  3. Germany
  4. Japan
  5. The Netherlands
  6. The Republic of Korea
  7. Hong Kong
  8. France
  9. Italy
  10. The UK

The top ten global importers are:

  1. The US
  2. China
  3. Germany
  4. Japan
  5. The UK
  6. France
  7. Hong Kong
  8. The Netherlands
  9. The Republic of Korea
  10. Italy

What Are People Searching For About WTO In The UK?

WTO statistics surrounding search terms reveal a considerable spike in January 2019, coinciding with the beginning of the controversy surrounding Article 24.

This is what UK people have been searching for. 

Brexit, too, has increased search interest in the WTO. The following terms have risen by around 5,000% in popularity as a result:

  • “WTO Article 24”
  • “WTO terms”
  • WTO rules brexit”
  • “WTO tariffs brexit”
  • “What are WTO rules”
  • “WTO tariff rates”
  • “What is WTO Brexit”
  • “WTO tariffs on food”
  • “WTO terms Brexit”
  • “WTO rules article 24”
  • “WTO rules explained” 

Data from Twitter taken between 2015 and 2019 reveals that the number of members of the public mentioning the WTO on the platform remained exceedingly low compared to the number of UK news articles surrounding the subject between 2015 and 2017. At the start of 2019, however, we see a huge spike – with public interest surpassing the media conversation by around three times at its peak.

How Does WTO Search Interest Compare To Brexit?

Compared to the subject of Brexit, however, search interest in the WTO is exceptionally low. At the start of 2019, WTO statistics surrounding search saw the subject sitting at only 1/50th of that of Brexit as a whole.

Furthermore, even more specific Brexit-related topics such as the matter of the Irish border sat at double the amount of searches achieved by the term “WTO rules”.

In fact, the majority of Brexit-focussed search terms, including Article 50, Second Referendum and No Deal are between three and twenty three times more popular than that of “WTO rules”.

However, there are still around 1000 searches for this phrase per month, falling marginally below “European Free Trade Association” and above “Transition Period”, “Withdrawal Agreement”, “Divorce Bill” and “Norway Model”.

While public interest in the WTO may be minimal, it is impossible to deny that changes relating to both UK imports and exports will have a significant impact on the UK’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world following Brexit. 

The type of departure achieved – with a deal or without a deal, for example – will mean the difference between a variety of levels of tariff and a wide range of trade situations, the knock-on effects of which will have a significant impact on our deals with major trade powers such as the US and China.

References

Martina Lawless and Edgar L.W. Morgenroth, “The product and sector level impact of a hard Brexit across the EU”, Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences, December 2018 – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21582041.2018.1558276?af=R&journalCode=rsoc21&

ONS Pink Book – https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/balanceofpayments/datasets/pinkbook

Richard Barfield Advisory Services Limited, “UK Trade and the World Trade Organisation”, September 2018 – https://brexitfactbase.com/pdfs/UKTradeWTO.pdf

United Nations Conference on Trade & Development, “No-deal Brexit, the trade winners and losers”, April 2019 – https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2052

Visit Britain, Visit Economy Facts, 2018 – https://www.visitbritain.org/inbound-tourism-trends

World Trade Organisation, International Trade and Market Access Data Interactive, May 2019 – https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/statis_e/statis_bis_e.htm?

World Trade Organisation, World Tariff Profiles, 2017 – https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/publications_e/world_tariff_profiles18_e.htm

World Trade Organisation, World Trade Statistical Review, 2018 – https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/statis_e/wts2018_e/wts2018_e.pdf

UNWTO.org, Chinese OUtbound Tourism Market, 2018 – 

https://www2.unwto.org/event/unwto-workshop-chinese-outbound-tourism-market

 

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