GTFS: Global Trends and Future Scenarios Index

World Trade: Possible Futures


The current financial and economic crisis has seen a sudden and rapid contraction in world trade.

Will this situation correct itself when financial flows return to ‘normal’ levels? How will the rising cost of energy and the growing influence of emerging economies change trade patterns?

As part of the first UK World Trade Week, the UK Government’s Trade Policy Unit (Department for International Development/Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) asked the Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre (Government Office for Science) to explore the possible future courses of world trade. The Centre has developed the four contrasting scenarios that are presented here, which illustrate how world trade might develop between now and 2020.

Scenarios are a commonly used method of ‘futures analysis’. The technique seeks to identify and analyse the key ‘drivers of future change’ – factors that are present today or likely to emerge – and considers how they may evolve and interact. Scenario narratives are then developed, each one describing a possible future.

By illustrating a number of radically different but plausible outcomes, scenarios challenge the idea that an understanding of current trends is a sufficient basis for making useful forecasts. Scenarios provide policymakers with a powerful tool for testing their policies, helping to ensure that they are robust in different situations. Scenarios can also serve as a guide and inspiration for strategy development.