Asia is leading a recovery in global trade, but world trade volumes are still expected to shrink 10% this year, the World Trade Organisation says.
The WTO's forecast for 2009 world trade was issued on Wednesday. However, it said the contraction appeared to be slowing.
"Our figures showed that Asian countries may be leading a recovery in global trade," WTO director-general Pascal Lamy told a news conference in Singapore, where he was attending a two-day Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation trade meeting. "There's no room for complacency."
Trade officials at the APEC meeting offered cautious optimism over their export outlooks, with China, leading hopes for a tentative global recovery, saying the decline in its exports could ease in the second half of the year.
Mr Lamy said it was too early to see if measures to boost trade financing were working, after a freeze in credit markets last year dried up funding for trading firms.
"Has it worked? A bit too soon to say," Mr Lamy said, referring to measures taken by the WTO and financial institutions to lift financing for exporters.
"This trade finance is in many ways the oil of world trade," he said. "In this region, it appears that more oil is coming back to the market."
World exports of merchandise goods grew 15% in nominal terms in 2008 to $US15.78 trillion, the WTO said in its latest World Trade Report on Wednesday.
The report noted that trade rose 2% in real or volume terms in 2008 after rising 6% the previous year.
The share of developing country exports in world trade rose to a record 38% in 2008, the WTO said.
Germany retained its position as the world's leading merchandise exporter last year, with exports of $US1.47 trillion, slightly larger than China's $US1.43 trillion.
China's export performance faltered at the end of 2008. Its exports to the United States rose only 1% over the whole year after growth of 14% in the third quarter.
The WTO said the United States was the biggest importer in 2008, bringing in $US2.17 trillion of merchandise goods, 13.2% of the total, followed by Germany with a 7.3% share of $US1.21 trillion.
Total world imports rose 15% to $US16.12 trillion, giving a $US345 billion discrepancy with exports, due to different ways of measuring imports and exports, the WTO data show.