African export and imports recovered in 2012 as world trade growth decelerated sharply to 2%, from 5.2% in 2011, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) reported on Wednesday.
The dollar value of world merchandise exports increased by only 0.2% to $18.3-trillion, while the value of commercial-services exports rose by only 2% in 2012 to $4.3-trillion.
However, at 6.1%, Africa recorded the fastest export growth of any region, rebounding from an 8.5% slump in 2011. Africa’s imports also grew faster than those of any other region at 11.3%, making it the only region with double-digit growth in either exports or imports.
The value of African merchandise exports rose to $626-billion, or 4% of the global total, while imports rose to $604-billion, or 3% of the world total. The continent’s export of commercial services were recorded at $90-billion, or 2% of the world total, while imports were $162-billion, which equated to 4% of the world total.
However, the South African results were far less flattering, with the continent’s leading economy reporting a sharp fall in merchandised exports during the year.
South Africa, which experienced protracted strikes in the mining, transport and agriculture sectors, saw its merchandise exports fall 11% to $87-billion – a decline that was worse than the 4% fall recorded for the 27 European Union countries.
South African imports grew 1% to $123-billion, a trade balance that was reflected in the country’s current account deficit, which rose to 5.9% of gross domestic product in 2012.
In fact, if South Africa had been excluded from the African trade equation in 2012, the continent would have recorded an 8% rise in merchandise exports to $539-billion, while imports would have climbed 9% to $481-billion.
As with South Africa, the global picture remained one of weakness, with the WTO also warning that trade growth would remain “sluggish” during 2013 at around 3.3%.
The 2013 forecast remained below the 20-year average of 5.3% and well below the pre-crisis trend of 6.0%, recorded between 1990 and 2008.
The WTO also warned that there were “Significant downside risks”, which centred on the eurozone crisis and the pace of fiscal contraction in developed economies.
The 2012 estimate was 0.5 percentage points lower than the WTO’s September forecast of 2.5%, with the weaker-than-expected performance attributed to “slow growth in developed economies and recurring bouts of uncertainty over the future of the euro”.
The WTO said that improved economic prospects for the US in 2013 would only partly offset the continued weakness in the European Union, where the economy was expected to remain flat or even contract. China’s growth would cushion the slowdown, but exports from the country would be constrained by weak demand in Europe.
“The events of 2012 should serve as a reminder that the structural flaws in economies that were revealed by the economic crisis have not been fully addressed, despite important progress in some areas. Repairing these fissures needs to be the priority for 2013,” director-general Pascal Lamy said in a statement.
He added that the threat of protectionism might be “greater now than at any time since the start of the crisis”, and urged countries to refrain from a “self-destructive lapse into economic nationalism”.
“Trade can once again be an engine of growth and a source of strength for the global economy rather than a barometer of instability. The way is before us, we only need to find the will,” Lamy argued.