Global exports of the creative economy exceeded $1.62 trillion in 2020, highlighting that the sector offers an opportunity for countries to tap into to boost their economies, a study by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) has found.
Decade-long data analysed by Unctad revealed that the value of creative goods increased by a quarter to $524 million in 2020 from $419m in 2010, while exports of creative services more than doubled to $1.1 trillion from $487 billion during the same period, the agency said in a report.
Notably, when compared to World Bank data for 2021, the $1.62tn figure surpasses the gross domestic product of all countries except for 11, further highlighting the enormous potential the sector has.
“International trade in creative goods and services generates increasing revenues for countries, but creative services exports vastly exceed those of creative goods,” Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary general of Unctad, wrote in the report.
“Yet more data and innovative and multidisciplinary policy responses are needed to enhance the development impacts of the creative sector. This is essential, as the creative economy provides all countries, particularly developing economies, with a feasible option for development.”
Definitions of creative industries vary by organisations, but Unctad describes it as cycles of creating, producing and distributing goods and services that use creativity and intellectual capital as primary inputs.
They comprise a set of knowledge-based activities that produce tangible goods and intangible intellectual or artistic services with creative content, economic value and market objectives.
Fields that are considered to be part of the creative economy include cultural and natural heritage, books and press, performing arts and celebration, audiovisual and interactive media, visual arts and crafts, and design and creative services.
Other fields branching out from these are also covered, including the publishing industry and books, cinema, film and video, music, various art domains, cultural heritage museums, historical sites, archives, major cultural events, libraries and other related sub-sectors.
Grynspan had already urged countries urged countries to support and grow the creative and cultural sectors and increase their contribution to the economy during the World Conference on Creative Economy in Dubai last December.
However, much like practically every industry, the Covid-19 pandemic, which emerged in 2020, did not spare the creative sector.
The health crisis had a “devastating” impact on certain creative industries and deepened their pre-existing vulnerabilities, Unctad said. These sectors lost as much as 10 million jobs and contracted by about $750bn globally during the health crisis-stricken year, it added, citing industry reports.
But with restrictions largely lifted and the world returning to normality, it is expected that the creative industry — which is increasingly being noticed and supported more by economies — will strongly rebound.
The Unctad report said developing economies are more likely to export more creative goods compared to developed nations. In 2020, China was by far the largest exporter of creative goods with a $169bn value, followed by the US ($32bn), Italy ($27bn), Germany ($26bn) and Hong Kong ($24bn).
The same goes for creative services: developed economies accounted for more than 82 per cent of all creative services exports in 2020, with the largest exporters being the US with a value of $206bn, followed by Ireland ($174bn), Germany ($75bn), China ($59bn) and the UK ($57bn).
“Countries have increasingly turned their attention to capturing the economic contribution of their creative industries,” Unctad said.
“They produce various statistics about the creative economy, such as contribution to GDP, the share of creative goods and services from total exports and imports, the number of employed persons and enterprises in the creative sector and participation in culture.”
Creative industries’ impact on economic growth and development in emerging markets has been gaining recognition. In 2013, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) published one of the first handbooks to help creators, nonprofits, and government agencies navigate commercial opportunities across the arts, heritage, media, and creative services, a sector it christened the “Orange Economy.”And at the 2018 World Conference on Creative Economy, organizers acknowledged “the vast potential and significant contributions of the creative economy to enable global economic growth [and] social and cultural development.”
At Amberry, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, artisans create accessories like these wooden bowties for men. Shifting to digital payment mechanisms during the pandemic helped the shop stay in business.
Most notably, the United Nations designated 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. As the year comes to a close, UNCTAD’s Henderson says awareness of the creative economy’s potential is gaining momentum.For the first time, G20 leaders have recognized culture and creative industries as drivers for sustainable development and in fostering economic resilience, and G20 ministers of culture have recommended including culture, cultural heritage, and the creative sector in post-pandemic recovery strategies.
Development organizations can support the growth of more, better, and inclusive jobs for young people in the creative industries, says Namita Datta, program manager of Solutions for Youth Employment, a multi-partner working group housed at the World Bank.Raising awareness of creative professions as a viable career path and offering relevant skills training is important because youth unemployment is a crisis in many developing nations, and especially across Africa, where the fast-growing population is outpacing employment opportunities. The continent’s population of 1.2 billion is projected to more than double by 2050. Africa also has the world’s youngest population, with a median age of 25.The creative economy uses intellectual capital as the primary input, which then produces tangible goods and intangible intellectual or artistic services with creative content, economic value and market objectives.