The World Trade Organization reports international trade grew at a modest 2.5 percent last year. The WTO says the global trade outlook for this year is uncertain, largely because of the effect of the war in Iraq and the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
The WTO report views the global economic recovery as uneven. It says the United States, the advanced economies in East Asia, China and the transition economies of eastern and central Europe were the driving forces behind the global economic pick-up. In contrast, the economies of Western Europe and Japan continued to stagnate.
World Trade Organization Senior Economist Michael Finger says the conflict in Iraq has pushed up oil prices, which has had negative consequences on business worldwide.
Also, he says the SARS crisis has caused a deceleration in growth in dynamic economies such as China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Although, he notes China came out better than the other countries.
"Surprisingly, to some of us, the impact on China's economic growth was rather moderate," he said. "China's economic growth still in the first half expanded by more than seven percent, which is quite outstanding. Within Asia, good growth has also been reported for India. These two countries together are the most populous nations in Asia and support the activities in the region."
The WTO report predicts growth for developing Asia this year will be slightly less than last. However, it still will be stronger than in any other developing region.
The report says Africa's economic growth slowed down last year by about three percent, following an increase of more than four percent in 2001. But, WTO economists expect economic growth in the African region to pick up steam this year and expand by 4.2 percent.
Mr. Finger says there are huge regional differences in Africa.
"There is excellent economic growth in three countries where it exceeds 10 percent," he said. "These are Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique and Angola. On the other hand, there are economies, which record a decline in their GDP [Gross Domestic Product] in 2002. In particular, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. The latter two countries experienced civil strife and these are the main factors why these countries recorded negative growth."
Mr. Finger says agricultural subsidies in the developed countries tend to depress prices for African goods. And this is making it difficult for African farmers to export their products.
The report says U.S. exports continued to decrease in the first five months of this year, while imports increased. As a consequence, it says the U.S. trade deficit widened. While this is good for America's trading partners, the report says, it is not so good for the United States.