How Emerging Markets Are Transforming Global Trade

How Emerging Markets Are Transforming Global Trade

In contrast to growing protectionist policy measures in many developed economies, EM countries are actively cultivating and developing their trade partnerships.

As the chart below illustrates most international trade is now between advanced and emerging economies, unlike twenty years ago when the majority of international trade took place between advanced economies. Significantly, it is exports between emerging economies that has increased the most. We believe this intra-regional EM business will shape international trade flows in the decades to come. 


Source Martin Currie and Statista. Statista sources: IWF, WB, WTO.


Below is a rundown of the main reasons why we believe emerging markets are transforming global trade:   

Shifting the axis of world trade

The US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) earlier this year has largely been viewed as a geopolitical and economic boon for China as it creates space for it to fill the void in trade in east Asia. And although it was initially feared that the TPP would dissolve without US involvement, an 11-strong membership is looking to keep the deal alive. This should liberalise commerce across several EM nations including Chile, Peru and Malaysia, and – if agreed – would be one of the world’s most significant multilateral trade deals.

The US departure from TPP has also meant that the China-backed, 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has now gained far greater relevance. The RCEP includes both China and India and represents a quarter of the world’s GDP. The pact also comprises Japan and Australia, but notably does not include the US.      

And while renegotiations regarding the North America Free-Trade Agreement could be damaging to Mexico, a number of bilateral trade deals are strengthening ties between emerging market countries. In particular, China has for some time being pursuing trade links with many South and Central American countries, signaling greater diplomatic and economic activity between the regions outside the sphere of influence of developed markets.


The growing importance of intra-regional trade

More and more, EM countries’ most important import and export partners are other developing nations. China, for example, is by far the top export destination for Brazilian products. While the number one exporter to South Africa, India and Russia is China. This intra-regional trade is only set to continue with trade blocs, such as the ASEAN Free Trade Area (which includes Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos) generating considerable internal trade momentum outside trading links with developed markets. As the chart below demonstrates, the vast majority of import values for the ASEAN region come from its own members as well as China. 

Import values of the ASEAN region* in 2014 by trading partner (calculated in billions of US dollars)

* Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Statista. Statista sources: Association of Southeast Asian Nations; 2014

The New Silk Road

China’s New Silk Road, or ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative is an audacious project that will have major benefits for increasing the ease of trade from China, across Asia and beyond. It is estimated that US$2–4 trillion of capital will be spent across 68 countries to build infrastructure in the form of ports, airports, highways, railways, power generation plants and pipelines. With this kind of transformational improvement in transportation links, it’s easy to imagine the potential benefits that will open up for the EM countries and companies whose markets will expand as a result. 


Source: Martin Currie


Expanding markets

Emerging countries are also becoming increasingly significant in terms of international trade as they become wealthier and domestic demand rises. A rapid pace of growth is driven by a raft of strong secular trends: improving demographics provide a young and increasingly well-educated, growing workforce; while on the other side of the equation, a rising middle class, specifically in urban areas, will continue to propel strong consumption growth across many markets.

Take the global auto sector for instance. China is already the world’s biggest vehicle market – 2016 saw 28 million new registrations, which was more than the US, Canada and Mexico combined. However, when you also consider China’s appetite in the burgeoning electric vehicles market (a rise of 381% between 2014–2016 in newly registered EVs in China1), it’s clear that EM will play a major role globally as both recipient and producer in such markets. 


Growth of the supply side

As demand and consumption rises in EM, a confluence of supply side reforms, efficiency improvements and innovation has also paved the way for greater export capabilities. In particular, many EM companies have begun to lead the field in areas such as internet technology and e-commerce. E-commerce companies in China have built huge footprints domestically, while their respective US tech rivals are peripheral players. Meanwhile, other EM tech firms are now central players in global supply chains.


Emerging market advantage

Emerging markets now play a more significant part in international trade than at any other point in history. Strong secular growth trends in EM have spurred a monumental supply-side response through innovation, reforms and improved capacity utilisation. At the same time, recent shifts in developed-world trade policy towards a more protectionist stance, have contrasted with the more broadly free-trade outlook of EM countries. This, we believe, puts many EM companies at a distinct advantage to their developed market counterparts and will continue to drive EM growth for many years to come. 


1 Source: Statista. Statista source: International Energy Agency