By  on April 13, 2007

GENEVA — Growth in global trade is expected to slow this year to 6 percent from 8 percent in 2006, according to a World Trade Organization report released Thursday.

The slowdown will stem from weaker economic activity marked by increased uncertainty in financial and real estate markets, and the risks of large trade imbalances, the report said.

WTO director-general Pascal Lamy said, "The uncertainties that lie ahead are a warning for us not to lose sight of the need to continue to reform the world economy."

Lamy said the best contribution WTO members could make was to "keep strengthening" the trade system, "which has a stabilizing effect on the global economy."

The best way to do this, Lamy said, was for the 150 member-states of the WTO to reach a successful conclusion to the Doha global trade talks, which he stressed "hold great potential for boosting growth and alleviating poverty."

The talks, which collapsed last July over differences on farm trade issues, were revived in January following an intervention by President Bush and other leaders, but have yet to secure the political breakthrough to bring the round to a successful conclusion.

The WTO report showed that China, the world's fastest-growing economy, "continued to outstrip other major traders." China's overall merchandise trade expansion "remained outstandingly strong in 2006," said the report, "World Trade 2006, Prospects for 2007."

Last year, China's exports grow in value by 27 percent to $969 billion, which ranked it the world's third-largest exporter. China's imports also grew faster than the global trade, but lagged behind export growth. Its imports rose 20 percent, to $792 billion, which also placed it as the world's third-largest importer, the WTO said.

WTO economists said that, as expected, China enhanced its role as the leading supplier of global trade in textiles and apparel, even though those categories remain under safeguard quotas from the U.S. and European Union. China's overall exports of textiles and apparel to the world rose by about 25 percent in 2006, up on the previous year's increase of 21 percent.

In 2006, U.S. imports of textiles and apparel from China "increased by 15 percent and accounted for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. imports." The agency put the value of U.S. textiles and apparel imports in 2006 at $106.4 billion, up 4 percent on the prior year.The WTO findings also reveal that other low-income and middle-income countries increased their share of global exports of textiles and apparel. For instance, U.S. imports increased 25 percent from Indonesia and Cambodia, 18 percent from Vietnam and 22 percent from Bangladesh. Imports into the U.S. were also up from India and Pakistan, by 8 and 12 percent, respectively.

Exports from developed countries and some newly industrialized East Asian economies — South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao and Mexico — lost market share, as did small suppliers from Africa. U.S. imports contracted 3 percent from the EU and 17 percent from Turkey, the WTO said.

Shipments of textiles and apparel to the U.S. from its five Central American Free Trade Agreement partners — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic — were down 7 percent, and from Mexico and poor sub-Saharan African nations declined by 10 percent, it said.

Imports of textiles and apparel into the four largest developed markets — the U.S., EU, Japan and Canada — increased in 2006 by 5.5 percent to $350 billion, up on the previous year's 4 percent expansion.

Germany remained the world's top merchandise exporter in 2006, with shipments up 15 percent to $1.1 trillion, for a 9.2 percent global share, followed in second place by the U.S., with $1 trillion, up 14 percent. The U.S. remained the world's top merchandise importer with an 11 percent rise in the value of shipments to $1.9 trillion for a 15.5 percent share of total global merchandise imports. Next was Germany with $910 billion, up 17 percent.

The world's second-largest emerging economy, India, also posted a strong trade performance, with exports up 21 percent to $120 billion and imports gaining 25 percent to $174 billion.

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