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Economic recovery in Europe and expanded trade throughout North and South America pushed global trade to an 18-year-high in 1994, according to a new report. Another healthy increase is expected this year.

Africa and the Middle East were the global economy's only poorly performing regions, the World Trade Organization said in a report released Wednesday.The volume of exports rose 9 percent last year - more than double the 1993 level and the highest rate since 1976. The value of global merchandise sales jumped 12 percent to top $4 trillion for the first time.

Trade in commercial services such as banking and tourism was estimated at $1.08 trillion, 6 percent higher than 1993.

The WTO predicted the volume of global imports and exports will rise 8 percent this year, but cautioned that might be affected by turmoil in the currency markets.

It said merchandise trade growth easily outstripped production growth of 3.5 percent in 1994. Trade traditionally acts as a spur to domestic economic expansion and prosperity.

"These are not just abstract figures," acting WTO chief Peter Sutherland told business leaders Monday night in Ottawa. "They mean growth in business, in jobs and in living standards. And in the WTO, the world has new possibilities for helping to sustain this growth."

The WTO came into being Jan. 1, succeeding the old General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It is in charge of putting into place a trade liberalizing agreement expected to increase exports and imports and further boost the world economy over the next 10 years.

The United States was the biggest single trader - and deficit nation - last year. Its merchandise exports rose 10 percent to $512.7 billion, and its imports were up 14 percent at $689.2 billion.

Germany followed with $421.9 billion in exports and $376.6 billion in imports.

In third place, Japanese exports of goods rose 10 percent to $397 billion, and its imports increased 14 percent to $275.4 billion. Despite continuing U.S. accusations about Japanese trade barriers, the surge in imports like computers, telecommunications equipment, automotive products and clothing was much higher than Japan's growth in domestic demand, the WTO said.