The decline in world trade, exemplified by falling Chinese exports and a decline in US imports, mainly reflects a phase of weak global economic growth.
It also raises questions about whether deeper changes are afoot, with decades of deepening global economic integration giving way to a new era in which the West and China do more business with their political friends and less with each other.
Geopolitical tensions, heightened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are leading to further restrictions on the US and Europe doing business with China. However, the sheer scale and complexity of global trade and investment linkages means that any process of unraveling the world economy into blocs of like-minded countries is likely to be gradual and incomplete.
Global trade is currently weak, largely because demand for goods is weak, economists say. Higher interest rates in the US, Europe and other economies struggling with inflation have led to a broad global slowdown.