Minor barriers to trade could slow the speed of a global economic recovery even if protectionism has not reached the high levels seen in the past, the head of the World Trade Organisation said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a conference in Berlin, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said a decline in trade volumes appeared to be at an end and the global economy on track for a fragile recovery.
For the moment, we have not seen the kind of high intensity protectionism as in the past, even if an accumulation of lower intensity measures could stand in the way of a more rapid recovery, he told a meeting of the VDMA engineering industry association.
There are some green shoots but my sense is that we must consider them with caution ... On the trade side, the contraction appears to have begun to be bottoming out, he added.
The WTO expects world trade to contract 10 percent this year, hit by the economic crisis and tight credit conditions which have been particularly tough for importers and exporters.
The organisation has pushed countries to sign up to a sweeping global trade agreement which has been under negotiation since 2001.
A successful agreement in the so-called Doha round of trade negotiations could help governments unwind their massive stimulus packages and spur economic growth, Lamy said.
Concluding and implementing the results of this negotiation can play the role of a global stimulus package, Lamy said.
Fiscal exit strategies aimed at avoiding ballooning public debt will have to rely on a combination of fiscal consolidation ... and sustained GDP growth, he said, adding that trade could drive this growth.
The Doha round is already the longest set of multilateral trade talks in history. It was launched with the goal of helping poor countries to prosper through trade and has suffered many missed deadlines and setbacks.
Lamy said much work remained ahead and that a political push is needed if such a deal is to be accomplished before 2011, as leaders from major nations have told him.
Swedish Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling told Reuters on Monday that Doha talks could drag into 2011 if the United States failed to set out its trade policies soon.
It still depends on whether they will formulate a clear trade policy during 2010, and some people tend to say it's maybe more realistic during 2011, from the U.S. side, Bjorling said.