Complexity Economics Society

Will Global Trade Recover Anytime Soon?


In a 2015 United Nations Trade and Development Conference  report  “Trade Slowdown” one reads:

‘As of 2014 the trends in international trade were largely driven by the sluggish economic growth and the persisting economic and political turmoil in various part of the world. From 2011 to 2014 world trade grew at a rate of less than 2 per cent per year, notably slower than in the pre-recession period. World trade has further slowed down during the last year with only marginal growth and mostly related to an increase in the trade of services. The trade slowdown has affected all geographic regions, but by varying degrees.
World trade dynamics have changed since the global recession. After strongly rebounding in 2010 and 2011, global trade growth has been anemic and even lower than GDP growth since 2012. Consequently, world exports over GWP have remained stagnant at a level first reached in 2007. The peculiarity of the last few years vis-a-vis the last two decades is well illustrated in Chart 1. This pattern could indicate the start of a de-globalization period (a process of diminishing interdependence and integration between countries).’
The decline is illustrated in the chart below, showing the World trade to GDP ratio.


The curve goes flat approximately 1 to 2 years before the 2008 economy meltdown.

As we have indicated in past blogs, a system which evolves and grows becomes more complex. A good example is that of our biosphere, wherein the evolutionary thrust produces increasingly complex structures and life forms. The same may be said of the economy, in particular of the Global Economy.

The opposite happens when ecosystems or economies (societies) face catastrophes such as mass extinctions or wars and depressions. A dramatic loss of biodiversity (such as the extinction at the end of the Permian period, which wiped out 96% of the species – all life on Earth today descends from the 4% that survived) leads to a significantly simpler biosphere. In the economy, the crises of 1929 and 2008 are good examples. Loss of activity and vitality (development, progress, trade) is equivalent to a loss of complexity (de-globalisation). This is clearly visible in the chart below where we report the above chart as well as the evolution of Global Complexity since 1980 until 2015.




The 2008 crisis is indicated by the vertical arrow. After peaking in 2009 global complexity falls at an almost constant pace, accelerating visibly at the end of 2014 (just like global trade, which drops after a period of 4 years of constant value).

One can make following interesting observations:

  1. Approximately 3 years before the 2008 financial meltdown the complexity gradient has increased significantly (to almost double the value of the preceding 10 years of steady linear growth). The hump, which peaks in 2009, is what we call a ‘complexity bubble’. Bubbles are of course made to burst.
  2. The rapid increment of the complexity gradient precedes the slowdown of global trade by approximately 1 year. Similar phenomena may be observed around 1985-86, when a sudden jump in complexity preceded a stagnation of global trade until 1990.
  3. If we examine the global complexity trend since 2009 we witness an evident and sustained reduction. This is not a good omen. It means that, globally speaking, we are not on any road to recovery. Quite the contrary, we haven’t touched the bottom yet. If we accept that globalisation, global trade and global complexity are related, the complexity chart in particular shows eloquently that the system is still ‘shrinking’.

The one piece of good news is on the resilience front. In the chart below it is shown how global resilience, which has dropped by almost 9% in the period 1980-2010, is now showing signs of mild recovery. This means that, based on the available data, the World seems to have experienced its maximum fragility around 2012-2013.




In summary, complexity, provides a new KPI which naturally blends thousands of indicators into one and which allows us to anticipate, reflect and measure the trends and traumas in the economy from a holistic and systemic perspective.

It is interesting to dispose of similar information (complexity, resilience) together with a quantitative breakdown into the 1400+ factors which the World Bank provides, for each of the 194 countries. This is exactly what we provide in our “Global Complexity Report” – a modern tool for the global investor.

For information contact us at




Established originally in 2005 in the USA, Ontonix is a technology company headquartered in Como, Italy. The unusual technology and solutions developed by Ontonix focus on countering what most threatens safety, advanced products, critical infrastructures, or IT network security - the rapid growth of complexity. In 2007 the company received recognition by being selected as Gartner's Cool Vendor. What makes Ontonix different from all those companies and research centers who claim to manage complexity is that we have a complexity metric. This means that we MEASURE complexity. We detect anomalies in complex defense systems without using Machine Learning for one very good reason: our clients don’t have the luxury of multiple examples of failures necessary to teach software to recognize them. We identify anomalies without having seen them before. Sometimes, you must get it right the first and only time!

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