Trade growth has slowed since 2012 relative both to its strong historical performance and to overall economic growth. This chapter finds that the overall weakness in economic activity, in particular in investment, has been the primary restraint on trade growth, accounting for up to three-fourths of the slowdown. However, other factors are also weighing on trade. The waning pace of trade liberalization and the recent uptick in protectionism are holding back trade growth, even though their quantitative impact thus far has been limited. The decline in the growth of global value chains has also played an important part in the observed slowdown. The findings suggest that addressing the general weakness in economic activity, especially in investment, will stimulate trade, which in turn could help strengthen productivity and growth. In addition, given the subdued global growth outlook, further trade reforms that lower barriers, coupled with measures to mitigate the cost to those who shoulder the burden of adjustment, would boost the international exchange of goods and services and revive the virtuous cycle of trade and growth.

Subdued Demand: Symptoms and Remedies