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G20 summit no panacea for free trade - economists
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The Group of 20 Summit in London may only lay a common groundwork for cooperation rather than producing any substantial results in stemming the growing trend of protectionism, as global trade may contract for the first time in six years, experts predicted.

Leaders of 20 major developed and developing countries, which account for more than 80% of the world economy, are gathering in the British capital for meetings on Thursday to find ways out of recession. High on the agenda is protectionism that many believe may deepen and prolong the current crisis.

Despite an almost global consensus on the harm of protectionist measures, the head of governments and states are unlikely to come out of the meeting rooms with major specific actions except new pledges.

“It would come as a surprise if any marked progress is made on fighting protectionism during the summit,” said Hua Xiaohong, a leading scholar of regional economy at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE).

The meeting is unlikely to change the current international trade climate, she told chinadaily.com.cn in a telephone interview.

Seventeen of the 20 countries have imposed a variety of protectionist measures since the Washington summit in November when they pledged to keep protectionism at bay, the World Bank said in a report last month.

“Where there is a country, there is protectionism,” Hua asserted, especially during an economic downturn, as national interests rise above everything else.

Zhang Xiaoji of the State Council Development Research Center (DRC), a major government think tank pointed to the defect in the current mechanism for predicting no major development in anti-protectionism.

“The G20 doesn’t have decision-making power. All we can expect from the summit is to find common ground and pave the groundwork for cooperation,” he said.

Big deal or not, the summit per se constitutes silver lining for a world in its deepest recession in more than a half century, analysts believed.

“It means more than a gathering for another family photo,” said Xu Mingqi with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

“The summit is a sign of international coordination, which is the first step for solving disputes and making progress,” Xu told chinadaily.com.cn, adding that a cooperative mechanism will be established to reflect on what the world needs in the future.

Thanks to such willingness to cooperate, the increasing integration of global economy, and growing calls for free trade, the possibility of a large-scale trade war like the one in the 1930s is low.

“The whole world is now in the same boat,” Zhang of the DRC said, adding that countries are well aware that trade sanctions and punitive tariffs against foreign companies may ultimately hurt themselves as well.

In addition, the demands for free trade have been rising in the past few decades, and globalization is the trend, Professor Hua of the UIBE said.

(China Daily April 2, 2009)

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