Exports jumped 14.5 percent last year _ the biggest rise recorded since 1950 _ as economies rebounded from the global downturn, the World Trade Organization said Thursday.
Cross-border trade is expected to recover further in 2011, the WTO said in its annual report. Based on a 3.1 percent rise in gross domestic product worldwide, it predicts exports will grow a further 6.5 percent this year, slightly above the 6 percent yearly average between 1990 and 2008.
But uncertainty about the economic aftershocks of the Japan earthquake and the impact of political unrest in the oil-rich Middle East are adding a measure of uncertainty to the forecast, which assumes an oil price of about $100 a barrel.
The sharp rise in trade volumes marks a rebound from 2009, when exports fell 12 percent as the world suffered a dramatic economic downturn.
"Markets remained by and large open during the economic crisis, permitting countries to use trade as an important tool to facilitating economic stability," WTO chief Pascal Lamy told reporters in Geneva.
The United States saw exports grow 15.4 percent in 2010 after a drop of 14 percent the year before, putting it roughly back at 2008 levels.
Japan, too, recovered to pre-crisis levels, with a 27.5 percent rise in exports making up for the sharp 24.8 percent decline in 2009.
The effect of the earthquake on Japan's economy is unclear in the short term, but will likely be slight in the medium to long term, the WTO said. It predicted export volumes would decline 0.5 to 1.6 percent, while imports would slow between 0.4 and 1.3 percent
China, the world's biggest exporter, saw exports surge 28.4 percent in 2010, easily making up for the 10.5 percent loss a year earlier.
European Union countries lagged behind, achieving export growth of just 11.4 percent after a drop of 14.5 percent in 2009.
As a group, developing countries are predicted to increase their export volumes by 9.5 percent this year, while developed countries will have a more modest rise of 4.5 percent.
Lamy warned that many developed countries are still experiencing hangovers from the slump.
"High unemployment in developed economies and sharp belt-tightening in Europe will keep fueling protectionist pressures," he said.
His comments come as prospects for a global trade deal to conclude the so-called Doha Round of commerce liberalization appear to be in serious trouble.
Likening the 153-nation WTO _ where negotiations on the Doha Round have stalled for over 10 years _ to a mule, Lamy said multilateral trade was unlikely to take any drastic steps back.
"The difficulty with a mule is that sometimes it gets stuck," he said. "They don't go backward but they refuse to go forward either."