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Dynamic expansion in the developing world

Information note on South-South trade

World merchandise exports have more than tripled over the last two decades and reached US$18.3 trillion (in current prices) in 2012, with a quarter of that trade comprising exports among developing countries – so-called “South-South” trade – which reached a record $4.7 trillion, according to the recent UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics (see reference).


Total developing economies' exports now account for 45% of the world total, with half of the increase in global exports between 1995 and 2012 accounted for by developing countries. The share of South-South trade in total world exports has doubled over the last 20 years, to over 25%. Fuels and manufactured goods now account for roughly 25% and 58% of South-South trade, respectively.

The Handbook documents that the South-South trend has been led by developing Asia, followed by developing America. Intra-regional trade within developing Asia amounted to $3.5 trillion in 2012. The Handbook also reports that the growth of the South-South commerce was higher in developing Africa between 1995 and 2012 than in the developing regions of Asia and America. Moreover, South-South trade from least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa climbed significantly in value over the figure for 1995. African LDCs have increasingly benefited from commercial exchanges with developing Asia.

China's exports to other developing countries, recorded at $1 trillion last year, alone represent more than 20% of developing countries' intra-trade. Apart from China and major petroleum and gas exporters, Viet Nam, Egypt, India, Turkey, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile are among the economies that have expanded the most in the South-South trade during last two decades. Manufactured goods classified chiefly by material and miscellaneous manufactured articles hold the second highest share, 19% of total South-South trade, after fuels (25%), followed by parts and components for electrical and electronic goods, which accounts for 15% (see chart 1).

Developing economies have also been gaining market share in international trade in services, Handbook figures show. The share of exports from developing countries grew from 22% of the world total in 1995 to 30% in 2012. Services-sector exports from these countries increased by almost 8% in 2012, while they expanded by 6% in the transition economies. At the same time, practically no growth was observed in services exports from developed countries last year.  In construction and travel exports, developing economies now hold over 40% of the global market. Their importance is also growing in transport and in computer services trade. However, developing and transition countries do not account for much of global trade in financial services or in trade related to intellectual property (royalties and license fees; see chart 2).

Along with providing detailed statistics on international merchandise and services trade, the updated Handbook covers investment, commodity prices, maritime transport, and other economic and social data, for all individual economies for which data are available. In addition, it includes figures for geographical regions, various economic groupings, and world totals. The Handbook aims each year to provide data for the analysis and evaluation of world trade, investment, international financial flows, and development. To the extent possible, UNCTAD provides estimates to fill in data gaps in order to furnish the most complete datasets.

* UNCTAD: The UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2013, 522 pp, United Nations: New York and Geneva 2013. Available in printed form and on DVD: at www.unctad.org. In addition, the data underlying the findings of the Handbook are available online at UNCTADstat (http://unctadstat.unctad.org). UNCTADstat is a continuously updated statistical database.

Published: 19 Dec 2013

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