RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS

World Trade Report 2018: The future of world trade

How digital technologies are transforming global commerce

Trade has always been shaped by technology but the rapid development of digital technologies in recent times has the potential to transform international trade profoundly in the years to come. The World Trade Report 2018 examines how digital technologies – and in particular the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and Blockchain – affect trade costs, the nature of what is traded and the composition of trade. It estimates how global trade may be affected by these technologies over the next 15 years.

The Report finds that one of the most significant impacts of digital technologies is the extent to which they will reduce trade costs. In addition, digital technologies will affect the composition of trade by increasing the services component, fostering trade in certain goods such as time-sensitive products, changing patterns of comparative advantage and affecting the complexity and length of global value chains. A number of simulations outlined in the Report show that future technological changes are expected to increase trade growth, especially in trade in services, and that developing countries are likely to gain an increasing share of global trade.

The Report concludes that the expansion of digital trade is likely to entail considerable benefits but that international cooperation is needed to help governments ensure that digital trade continues to be an engine of inclusive economic development.

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