ByJohn S. McClenahen The presence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), continuing global economic weakness and the impact of the Iraq war could combine to keep world trade growth below 3% this year, says the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO). That would make this year essentially a repeat of 2002, when world merchandise trade rose 2.5% after adjusting for inflation. In 2001, the amount of merchandise trade taking place around the world declined 1%. Global merchandise exports rose 4% to US$6.24 trillion in 2002, and commercial services trade increased 5% to $1.54 trillion, says the WTO. During 2002, U.S. imports increased by 3%, but exports decreased by nearly 4% as key American trading partners such as Japan and Western Europe were barely growing economically and some Latin America economies were actually contracting. "Lack of price competitiveness might also have played a major role as U.S. exports decreased even to those regions where imports grew strongly," adds the WTO.