Forecasting Global Trade

U.S., Europe may be left behind as emerging countries grow faster and gain more partners.

Rapidly expanding global trade in coming years and changing trade patterns indicate that U.S. companies will have to work harder to win market share, according to HSBC’s recently updated trade forecast.

It shows international trade accelerating in 2014 instead of 2015 as the bank previously forecasted. Global trade is now expected to grow at an annualized rate of 3.8% over the next five years, and will pick up to an annualized rate of 6.23% a year from 2017 through 2021.

In 2016 and 2017, HSBC sees “tremendous growth” spurred by “trade fueling trade,” says Christopher Lewis, head of trade and receivables finance for North America. That includes businesses investing in equipment needed for trade, such as containers and packaging, and putting in place trade infrastructure such as container ports and railways. He notes, for example, Panama’s work to widen its canal, set to be completed in 2014.

At the same time, Lewis says, traditional arrangements in which emerging nations such as China and India exported to the United States, Canada and Europe are starting to give way to new sets of trading partners.

“It started with Brazil and China, with commodities flowing from Brazil to China and to some extent manufactured goods from China to Brazil,” he says. “You’re seeing a flow of oil from the Middle East to China, and goods going back through the Middle East for sale to the rest of the Middle East and even Africa.” HSBC forecasts the evolution of more new trade corridors, like countries in Eastern Europe that traditionally did business with Germany looking further afield to markets in Asia or South America.

A report released last fall by Ernst & Young also sees a shake-up as rapidly growing emerging economies become a more dominant force in global trade. E&Y predicts more trade will center on Asia, the Middle East and Africa. For example, flows between India and China are expected to account for one-fifth of global trade by 2020, with India’s exports to China growing at an annual rate of more than 20% through that year. Also by 2020, E&Y expects Europe to export 50% more to Africa and the Middle East than it does to the United States.

Bill Methenitis, global director for customs and international trade at Ernst & Young, says global trade is becoming increasingly complex, as businesses consider not only many more potential markets for their goods, but many more places to locate their production. “If you could picture a chart with strings on it from one country to another, you have significantly more strings than would have appeared previously,” he says.

Lewis says that in his previous job for HSBC, running the trade unit for Greater China, he noted more trade delegations from diverse locations, such as Czech businessmen looking to buy and sell and Argentinian farmers visiting the Chinese buyers of their soybeans and wheat. “You wouldn’t have seen that as much 10 years ago,” he says. “That’s a lot of what’s driving the optimism.

The U.S. will continue to have a significant relationship with China, but is expanding its trade with countries like Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, South Africa and Poland, says Lewis, who's pictured at left.

HSBC’s bullish trade outlook shows the U.S. underperforming, though. It forecasts U.S. trade will grow just 1.95% over the next five years, vs. the global rate of 3.8%. And when global trade really revs up beginning in 2017, the bank sees the U.S. expanding at an annual rate of just 5.7%, still underperforming the global rate of 6.2%.

“We would like to see more U.S. companies doing more in the way of exports,” Lewis says. “That’s really where they’re going to get their growth.”

He recalls another encounter in Hong Kong with two representatives of a small clothing business in Lancaster, Pa., who were seeking a new source of material. “If a U.S. importer of that size can go out and source materials for the garments they’re making, why can’t U.S. companies who have good products, higher-end products, go out and start selling abroad?” Lewis says. “That’s where the opportunities are.”

As trade picks up, E&Y’s Methenitis notes “a huge renewed emphasis on proper planning for free trade agreement use.”

With little progress toward a global trade agreement, there are more and more trade pacts that are either bilateral, regional or multilateral, he says, and companies have to deal with almost 400 different agreements worldwide. “Each has different rule sets that make a big difference on what the actual landed cost of a product is when it arrives,” Methenitis says.




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