Mexico’s 2012 GDP growth could prove higher than expected thanks to the pace of recovery in the United States and Mexico’s open economic policies relative to other countries in Latin America, a U.N. official said Wednesday.

The International Monetary Fund increased Tuesday its economic growth forecast for Latin America and the Caribbean, from 3.6 percent to 3.7 percent, but kept its Mexico prediction at 3.6 percent. But Alicia Barcena, head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, suggested Mexico’s growth could be as high as 3.9 to 4 percent.

“The theme to watch is exports. The WTO [World Trade Organization] notes with concern that trade flows may decrease, especially in Europe and China,” Barcena told Mexico's El Financiero newspaper from a meeting of the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Pointing out that there are currently six European economies in recession, Barcena added: “Since the outbreak of the crisis there has been an increase in trade-defense measures in Europe and several countries.”

Latin American and Caribbean GDP expanded 4.3 percent in 2011 and 5.9 percent in 2010. The World Trade Organization predicts global growth to slow in 2012 to 3.7 percent, down from 5 percent in 2011 and 10.7 percent in 2010. Panama expanded 10.5 percent last year, thanks in large part to the current Panama Canal expansion project.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America ended Wednesday with speculation that a surge in investment in the region in recent years positions Asia to become the top trading partner to Latin America, surpassing the United States and Europe.