World trade has been one of the worst casualties of the global economic slowdown and the source of some particularly startling figures. Towards the end of last year trade all but collapsed. According to the World Bank, the value of exports from a sample of 65 countries accounting for 97 percent of world trade rose by 20.2 percent in September, compared with a year earlier. But by November exports were worth 17.3 percent less than a year earlier, before slumping by a whopping 32.6 percent in the year to January. In March the managers of South Korea's Busan port, long one of the world's busiest, said that it had run out of space to store nearly 32,000 empty containers. The Baltic Dry Index, which measures demand for the ships that transport bulk goods such as iron ore or coal, fell from 11,793 at the end of May last year to a pitiful 663 in early December.
Estimates by the World Trade Organization suggest that trade volumes will shrink by around a tenth this year. But recent figures from big economies give reasons to hope that the worst of the slump may now be past. Even in May, the value of trade was nearly a third lower than a year earlier. But the recent awful figures mask the fact that exports and imports have held more or less steady since January.
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