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G20 must address collapsing world trade, says UK

LONDON (Reuters) - The G20 meeting of world political leaders next month must address the issue of falling global trade activity, which has “devastated” many countries, Britain’s special representative to the summit said on Sunday.

Britain's Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch-Brown (L) gestures during a news conference after the "Shared destiny : How relevant is Europe to the U.S. under Obama" session at the Brussels Forum conference staged by the German Marshall Fund think-tank in Brussels March 20, 2009. REUTERS/Sebastien Pirlet

Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch-Brown said leaders of the world’s major and emerging economies, who meet in London on April 2, did now understand that recovery from the global financial crisis rested on common agreement and not protectionism.

“I think free trade is the fastest-moving issue in these last days leading up to the summit because everywhere round the world I go to consult on this summit, countries are devastated by the sudden collapse of trade,” he told BBC TV.

“(The G20 leaders) are all aware that the biggest risk of all is that they leave this summit with an appearance of a fragmented, warring global economy, breaking up into its nationalistic parts.”

A World Bank report last week said countries, including 17 members of the G20, had implemented 47 trade curbs despite leaders agreeing at a previous meeting in November not to impose any new restrictions.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton last week pledged to push for a deal in the long-running Doha round of world trade talks as soon as possible.

Global business leaders meeting in London last week ahead of the G20 summit said concluding the Doha talks would be a major boost but added that, while there had been a lot of “good rhetoric” on protectionism, it was often compromised by actions.

Malloch-Brown said the collapse in trade had meant some Asian countries had seen a 30 percent contraction in their exports in the last month.

“It’s contracting much faster than the global economy as a whole so everyone wants to see tough language on trade,” he said.

He said while the G20 summit was not a forum which could agree any trade deals, it could agree measures not to avoid protectionism, put in place finance to get trade going again, and agree to monitor each other to restore confidence.

Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown was due to tour North and South America in the days running up to the summit as part of a “flurry of effort” to get “from (a) good to we hope (an) excellent” outcome, Malloch-Brown said.

He said ordinary people would judge it a success if they felt “their shoulders relaxing a bit at a sense of, ‘here are a group of leaders who know what they are doing, they have a plan, they are rowing in the same direction.’”

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by John Stonestreet