World trade in commercial services remained sluggish in the first quarter of 2021, falling 9% year-on-year, after registering a 21% decline for the full year of 2020 due to continued weakness in travel services, according to data from the WTO.
Unlike merchandise trade, commercial services trade has recovered more slowly as it is heavily influenced by lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Travel was the category of services that suffered the greatest decline during the pandemic, with a year-on-year drop of 82% in the second quarter of 2020. In the fourth quarter, the drop was still on the order of 71 percent.
Transportation was also severely affected, with a decrease of 29% in the second quarter, which was reduced to 13% in the fourth quarter.
As early as 2021, new variants of Covid-19 have further delayed the recovery of international travel.
However, other service sectors, such as transportation, are beginning to recover, with variations between regions due to uneven distribution of vaccines and different reductions in pandemic restrictions.
Travel continues to be the most affected service sector, with a 62% year-on-year drop in both 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.
Steepest declines were recorded in the first three months of 2021 in Asia (-67 percent).
International traveler spending fell 71% in Latin America and the Caribbean where, before the pandemic, travel revenue accounted for 43% of total service exports.
Despite vaccine launches in many advanced economies, the emergence of new virus variants and the reintroduction of travel restrictions and lockdowns are offsetting hopes of a recovery in international tourism during the summer.
On the contrary, transport recovered quickly. Global transportation exports still fell 14% year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2020, but recovered to their 2020 value in the first quarter of 2021.
The recovery was driven by high demand for goods coupled with increased freight rates due to port congestion, shipping delays and global container shortages.
In the first quarter of 2021, Asia’s transportation exports increased 28% year-on-year.
The WTO expects shipping rates, which started to rise in the summer of 2020, to remain high for at least the remainder of 2021.
Freight transport, the largest component of international transport, has helped to partially offset the sharp drop in passenger transport due to the pandemic.
“Other services”, such as construction, recreational, legal and financial services, increased on average 6% year-on-year in the first quarter of the year.
While construction lagged behind, with world exports falling by 2%, most other subsectors returned to growth, particularly audiovisual, artistic and recreational services, which were among the sectors most affected by the restrictions. related to Covid-19.
Computer services continued their impressive growth, 19% year-on-year.