World Trade to Grow 10% in 2010

WTO calls for greater global cooperation on the issue of trade in natural resources.

The World Trade Organization on July 23 raised its forecast for growth of global commerce to 10% this year, with its director general saying that even this might yet "turn out to be too low."

WTO chief Pascal Lamy said: "Our forecast for world trade this year is plus 10% in volume after the minus 12% we registered in '09." Lamy was speaking at the launch of the trade body's annual report on the sidelines of the Shanghai World Expo.

In a separate speech at Shanghai's Institute of Foreign Trade, Lamy said that after last year's dramatic slump, "trade growth is coming back fast, thanks in no small measure to the continuing dynamism of China and the others."

The WTO's latest forecast marks a rise from the 9.5% issued in March. The secretariat had warned then that the figure could prove too optimistic as markets were at that point unsettled by Europe's sovereign debt crisis.

In the trade body's annual trade report, the WTO focused on the issue of trade in natural resources. It called for greater global cooperation on such trade, warning that a failure to work together could spark new tensions.

"I believe not only that there is room for mutually beneficial negotiating trade-offs that encompass natural resources trade, but also that a failure to address these issues could be a recipe for growing tension in international trade relations," said Lamy in the report.

The value of world trade in natural resources -- including fisheries, fuels, forestry products and mining -- reached $3.7 trillion in 2008, close to a quarter of world merchandise trade.

Trade in such products had surged more than six fold between 1998 and 2008 mainly due to sharp rises in fuel prices, noted the WTO.

Russia topped the list of leading natural resource exporters, with a share of 9.1% in 2008. Saudi Arabia was the next biggest exporters, with a share of 7.6%.

The United States meanwhile is the biggest importer, buying some 15.2% of natural resources traded in 2008.

Japan was the next biggest importer with 9.1% and China a close third with 8.6%.

But as natural resources are finite or requires time for natural replenishment, resource-rich countries typically restrict their export volumes through export taxes or quotas, said the WTO. Such measures help to improve conservation of resources and can help push countries to diversify their exports away from the natural resource sectors.

However, the WTO warned that such trade barriers can be problematic. They can lead to retaliation or rising world prices. Rather, Lamy pushed for "well designed trade rules" to address environmental protection and management of natural resources.

"We would greatly enhance our chances of positive action in this area if we were to come to a prompt closure of the Doha Round," he said, referring to the long-stalled trade talks for a global free trade deal.

Launched in 2001 in the Qatari capital, the talks have foundered as developed countries and developing ones fail to agree on lowering tariffs and subsidies.

While not specifically targeting natural resources trade, the Doha package includes pertinent issues like fisheries subsidies.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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