Global trade contracted more in 2015 than any year since the financial crisis

Count ’em up.
Count ’em up.
Image: Reuters/Darren Whiteside
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

How bad was 2015 for international trade? The value of total goods moving across borders fell 13.8%—the biggest plunge since 2009.

Trade as measured by value has been contracting since 2013, according to the Dutch statistical agency that monitors world commerce, but last year the declines really accelerated.

A big culprit came from global deflation in the form of shrinking fuel and commodity prices. In 2014, fuel prices fell a little more than 7%; in 2015, they fell more than 40%—a level that doesn’t appear likely to rise soon.

Other commodity prices, down about 4% in 2014, fell another 14% in 2015, on the back of China’s economic slowdown and a commensurate fall in purchases of bulk goods like soybeans from countries such as Brazil.

Meanwhile, trade in Chinese-manufactured goods slowed down, and the strengthening dollar reduced the amount of US exports for the first time in three years.

But for all the anxiety around falling trade values, there’s a silver lining: Trade volumes remain in expansion, though growth has become agonizingly slow in the view of global merchants.