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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union finance ministers expressed concern on Tuesday over the future of free trade after what one of them called a "surreal" meeting of finance chiefs of the world's 20 biggest economies at the weekend.
Breaking a decade-long tradition of endorsing open trade, G20 finance ministers and central bankers made only a token reference to trade in their communique, acquiescing to an increasingly protectionist United States after a two-day meeting in Germany failed to yield a compromise..
"The atmosphere ... wasn't negative or acrimonious. However, it was surreal because the G20 is meant to find overall cooperation," said Finance Minister Edward Scicluna of Malta, current holder of the European Union presidency, on his arrival at a regular meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.
But he added: "I'm ... modestly optimistic that it served for countries to prepare themselves for the July summit (of the G20 nations) and then we'll see the outcome."
Some of his colleagues were less upbeat. Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said the G20 confirmed "a worrying trend" toward protectionism.
"We should do everything we can to stop it and reverse it back to the good direction," he told reporters.
Luxembourg's Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna raised similar concerns.
"We are all worried in Europe that open trade and globalization with its good sides have been put into question," he said, adding that this did not mean protectionism was inevitable.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis reiterated EU's commitment to free trade.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Gareth Jones