China Leads Upsurge in Global Creative Economy

Photo: Fire Eater. Credit: UNCTAD
The remarkable story of China’s dominance in the trade of creative goods and services is the golden thread of a new creative economy outlook by UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The creative economy is recognized as a significant sector and a meaningful contributor to national gross domestic product. It has spurred innovation and knowledge transfer across all sectors of the economy and is a critical sector to foster inclusive development.

With export growth rates of over 7 percent over 13 years, global trade in creative goods is an expanding and resilient sector buoyed by Asia in general and China in particular, according to a new UNCTAD report.

The second edition of the periodic Creative Economy Outlook: Trends in International Trade in Creative Industries examines the global picture and also features 130 country profiles with reported creative goods and services trade data.

“The creative economy has both commercial and cultural worth,” according to Pamela Coke-Hamilton, who directs UNCTAD’s trade division. “This dual value has led governments worldwide to focus on expanding and developing their creative economies as part of economic diversification strategies and efforts to stimulate prosperity and well-being.”

“Within the creative economy, the creative industries generate income through trade and intellectual property rights, and create new opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises,” she added.

Design and visual arts are among the highest performing sectors with fashion, interior design and jewelry accounting for 54 percent of creative goods exports in developed economies and 70 percent (including toys) in developing economies.

The creative industries – which include architecture, arts and crafts, marketing and advertising, media and publishing, research and development, software, computer games, and other core creative work – are the lifeblood of the creative economy.

“Although the downturn in global trade has impacted all industries, the report shows the creative economy is more resilient than most,” said Marisa Henderson, the chief of UNCTAD’s creative economy programme.

“The performance of the creative economy is encouraging and shows it is thriving through the intersection of culture, technology, business and innovation.”

The UNCTAD report also charts the remarkable rise of China, whose exports of creative goods grew at double the global average between 2002 and 2015. These figures are significant on two fronts, noted to Coke-Hamilton.

According to the report, China is the biggest single exporter and importer of creative goods and services. It is the main force behind the creative economy boom over the past decade and a half and owns a large portion of it. China’s trade in creative goods between 2002 and 2015 has been exponential, with average annual growth rates of 14 percent.

China’s trade in creative goods in 2002 was $32 billion. By 2014 this figure had increased more than fivefold, tallying $191.4 billion. In 2015, there was a drop off when China recorded a $168.5 billion trade in creative goods. But comparatively the country has maintained the lion’s share of the trade in creative goods. In 2015 Chinese exports were four times those of the United States.

The UNCTAD data also shows that Asia outstripped all other regions with China and South East Asia combined accounting for $228 billion of creative exports, almost double that of Europe.

China and Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines were the top 10 performing developing economies stimulating global trade in creative goods. “Generally, South-South trade is on the rise and looks set to be an area of vibrant future growth especially for the creative economy,” UNCTAD’s creative economy programme chief Henderson.

Among developed economies, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and Japan were the top 10 creative goods exporters.

The report also highlights the shift from creative goods production to delivery of creative services as an emerging trend. This is aligned with a global shift toward services as industrial and agricultural outputs decline. 

Henderson explained how newspapers and published products, which were originally a creative good, have flipped to become a creative service with the expansion of online media driven by digital subscriptions and online advertising.

“Creative services will grow,” she said. “Although there is limited data on the trade in creative services, more countries are reporting on creative services trade as it becomes a defining feature of local and regional economies.”

Available creative services exports data from 38 developed countries (with a comparable dataset) remained relatively stable between 2011 and 2015, with average annual growth rates at 4 percent.

Of all trade in services for the 38 countries, creative services represented an average portion of 18 percent, growing from 17.3 percent in 2011 to 18.9 percent in 2015.

“An important paradigm shift from the industrial to the knowledge economy is underway,” Henderson said. “In it, there is a new elevation of the role of ideas, imagination and creativity, and because of this, the creative economy.” There is a reason to embrace and support the creative economy’s growth, she added. [19 January 2019]

Photo: Fire Eater. Credit: UNCTAD

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