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Commodity exports to China Could Fall by USD 33.1 Billion in 2020, UNCTAD Study

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The global commodity exports to China could plunge up to 46 percent to USD 15.5 to 33.1 billion in 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis, according to research by the UN trade body.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that the findings raise concerns for economies that rely on exports of primary goods, such as energy products, ores, and grains.

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The UNCTAD research found that the global exports of commodities to China could plunge by USD 15.5 to 33.1 dollars in 2020, a drop of up to 46 percent compared with annual growth projections before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

For commodity-dependent developing countries, some of the most vulnerable on the planet, the drop is projected to be between USD 2.9 billion and USD 7.9 billion, which would constitute a 9 per cent loss in terms of annual growth rate.

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With China absorbing about one-fifth of world commodities’ exports, such a drop in its imports would dramatically impact producers of primary goods.

Assessing the impact in China says a lot about possible general tendencies, UNCTAD economist who conducted the study Marco Fugazza said.

It provides important information that may help policymakers anticipate what may happen globally.

There have been few assessments done so far at a relatively disaggregated product level using up-to-date information, adding that UNCTAD awaits similar statistics from other big markets, such as the European Union, to expand the analysis.

The UNCTAD analysis said that total exports are being dragged down primarily by the dramatic drop in Chinese demand for energy products, ores and grains.

Imports of liquefied natural gases, for example, could fall by up to 10 per cent in 2020 compared with a projected increase of 10 per cent before the COVID-19 outbreak.

The study says that iron imports are still expected to increase, but growth could fall by two-thirds, from a pre-coronavirus annual growth projection of 19 per cent to just 6 per cent.

Wheat imports are now projected to decrease by 25 per cent, twice as much as before the crisis.

While exports of most commodities are expected to take a hit, the study projects a positive outcome for several agricultural products compared with expectations before COVID-19.

Chinese imports of soya beans from commodity-dependent developing countries is now projected to grow by 34 per cent 10 percentage points more than earlier forecasts.

Similarly, the annual growth rate of imports for copper from these nations is expected to double, from a 5.4 per cent projection pre-pandemic to 11 per cent.

UNCTAD said these variations at the product level could lead to very different outcomes at the country level.

While large exporters of natural gases to China, such as Myanmar, may see their trade perspectives deteriorate because of the coronavirus pandemic, Fugazza says, other countries such as Equatorial Guinea may see an exponential increase in, for example, exports of wood.

The data gives hope that some COVID-19 effects on trade could be positive, at least for some exporters.

A necessary condition for this to happen, he said, is the removal of any pandemic-specific trade interventions, such as export restrictions.

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