Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, called on Asian governments to reject any initiatives that would raise their tariffs and erect other trade barriers in response to the current global economic slowdown.
"I'm concerned about the rising dangers of protectionism," Zoellick said during a news conference Thursday in Singapore, and reported by Associated Press. "The international system needs to stay on offense on trade because protectionist forces will raise their head."
Most Asian economies rely on exports to drive their GDP growth, and they have suffered from a decline in demand from the developed countries of Europe and North America.
Zoellick said that officials in China recently told him they were surprised by the weakness in export markets. "Even they were struck by the sharpness and the depth of the fall-off in exports," Zoellick said. "I'm afraid the first six months of 2009 are going to be a problem worldwide."
He added, "The policy actions that governments take, the monetary policy, the fiscal policy, maintaining open trade systems, will be the determinant of whether the first half of 2009 continues or whether there will be an upturn later in 2009."
Last week, the World Bank lowered its economic growth forecasts for East Asia, predicting that the region will expand next year at the slowest pace in eight years because of declining demand for exports, lower investment, and weak consumer spending.