Exports of digitally delivered services surged to $3.8tn in 2022, WTO says

They accounted for 54% of total services exports last year, according to new report

Digital delivery includes services traded cross-border through computer networks and digital intermediation platforms such as online gaming, music and video streaming. Photo: Pixoul Gaming
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The value of services exports delivered digitally has continued to increase, reaching $3.8 trillion last year, and accounted for more than half (54 per cent) of total global services exports, according to the World Trade Organisation.

Global exports of digitally delivered services recorded an almost fourfold increase in value since 2005, rising 8.1 per cent annually on average from 2005 to 2022, according to the WTO's Global Trade Outlook and Statistics report.

This outpaced the growth in value of goods exports (5.6 per cent) and other services exports (4.2 per cent), the Geneva-based trade agency said.

Digital delivery includes services traded cross-border through the internet, apps, emails, voice and video calls, and increasingly through digital intermediation platforms such as online gaming, music and video streaming and remote learning.

Growth in global trade is expected to remain “subdued” this year, following a significant slowdown in the fourth quarter of last year amid geopolitical tensions and macroeconomic headwinds, according to a March report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

Trade is set to stagnate in the first quarter of 2023, but the outlook is more positive for the second half of the year, the UN body said.

Geopolitical factors, persisting inflation and concerns about global debt sustainability will weigh on international trade flows, according to Unctad.

Business, professional and technical services accounted for about 40 per cent of digitally delivered services exports last year, followed by computer services (20 per cent), financial services (16 per cent), intellectual property related services (12 per cent), insurance services (5 per cent), telecoms services (3 per cent), audiovisual and other personal, cultural, and recreational services (3 per cent), and information services (1 per cent), the WTO said.

Europe accounted for more than half of global exports of digitally delivered services last year.

“Asia’s exports have been rising faster than the rest of the world. In 2022, almost a quarter of digitally delivered services originated from Asian economies, and 19 per cent from North America,” the WTO said.

“Central and South America and the Caribbean as well as the Middle East saw an acceleration in growth in 2022.”

However, growth in Africa continued to lag, with the region holding less than a 1 per cent share of digitally delivered services exports in 2022.

Meanwhile, global merchandise trade volume is projected to grow 1.7 per cent in 2023 before nearly doubling to 3.2 per cent next year, the WTO said.

Risks to the forecast include geopolitical tensions, food insecurity, potential financial instability stemming from monetary policy tightening and increasing levels of debt.

“Trade volume growth in 2022 was slower than expected at 2.7 per cent following a fourth quarter slump, but still stronger than worst case scenarios considered at the start of the war in Ukraine,” the WTO said.

The value of world merchandise trade rose 12 per cent to $25.3 trillion in 2022, boosted partly by high global commodity prices.

The report also found that the value of global commercial services trade increased 15 per cent in 2022 to $6.8 trillion.

Updated: April 09, 2023, 8:14 AM