TRUMP, BREXIT, AND CROSS-BORDER E-COMMERCE: Rising economic nationalism and the growth of digital retail

economy

BI Intelligence

This is a preview of a research report from BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service. To learn more about BI Intelligence, click here.

Cross-border e-commerce is widely expected to be a key growth engine for the global e-commerce industry in the coming years, thanks to a convergence of consumer and market trends.

Major retailers are already expanding their cross-border shipping options, and cross-border online purchases — those between consumers and merchants based in different countries — are set to grow twice as fast as domestic ones through 2020, according to a study released earlier this year by DHL. 

BI Intelligence estimates that, with current policies in place, global cross-border e-commerce will generate more than $1 trillion in sales for retailers by 2021.

However, over the past year, two key global events — the presidential election in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK — have cast uncertainty over the cross-border e-commerce market in the form of protectionist trade policies that could restrict the flow of goods between different countries. Growing economic nationalism in Western democracies — a phenomenon brought on by negative perceptions of the trade liberalization and globalization that these countries have experienced since the end of the Cold War — fueled both of these political upheavals.

In a new report, BI Intelligence details the the potential impact of the rise of economic nationalism in Western democracies on the global cross-border e-commerce market. Brexit, NAFTA’s renegotiation, and potential disruptions to US-China trade relations could dramatically impact cross-border e-commerce between the UK and EU, and the US and China, Mexico, and Canada. These cross-border e-commerce corridors together make up around 20% of global cross-border e-commerce, and generate tens of billions in online sales for merchants today. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • Cross-border e-commerce — defined as any online purchase made from a business located in another country — will grow to more than $1 trillion by 2021 under current global trade policies.
  • However, protectionist trade policies could disrupt several major cross-border e-commerce corridors by placing tariffs and new customs restrictions on goods moving between countries, and, in some cases, severely limiting online retailers’ ability to reach consumers in other markets. 
  • Donald Trump’s election in the US has raised the possibility of trade relations between the US and China deteriorating. This would threaten the most valuable cross-border e-commerce corridor in the world, as US retailers have found a massive market for their wares among China’s online shoppers.
  • The renegotiation of NAFTA will begin later this year, with cross-border e-commerce between the US, Canada, and Mexico hanging in the balance. US online retailers already garner billions in sales from Canadian consumers every year, and are making more inroads to Mexico as well. 
  • Brexit negotiations could impact tens of billions of dollars in e-commerce sales between UK consumers and EU merchants and vice versa. Though these merchants and consumers have long-standing ties, a “hard” Brexit would add new costs and complexities to transactions between them.

 In full, the report:

  • Forecasts the growth of cross-border e-commerce globally, as well as growth in the specific corridors that could be impacted by Brexit, NAFTA renegotiations, and US-China trade relations.
  • Examines trends and challenges in cross-border e-commerce between the UK and EU, as well as between the US and Canada, Mexico, and China.
  • Analyzes the impact that different scenarios — including a “hard” vs. “soft” Brexit, or targeted tariffs imposed on US-China trade — could have on cross-border e-commerce between the countries involved.
  • Provides insight into the likelihood of these scenarios, helping online retailers adjust their plans for international expansion and sales.  

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