The World Trade Organisation (WTO) expects the volume of trade growth to remain weak in 2016, unchanged from the 2.8% levels registered last year, and to slightly accelerate to 3.6% in 2017.

In particular, while exports of developed and developing countries should grow at around the same rate this year, at 2.9% and 2.8% respectively, imports of developed economies are expected to outpace those of developing countries in 2016, with a 3.3% rise against a 1.8% increase respectively.

The fastest export growth of any region this year at 3.4% is expected in Asia, followed by North America and Europe, each at 3.1%.

According to WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo, the expected rate of global trade growth is “disappointing”. “This will be the fifth consecutive year of trade growth below 3%. Moreover, while the volume of global trade is growing, its value has fallen because of shifting exchange rates and falls in commodity prices. This could undermine fragile economic growth in vulnerable developing countries,” he explains.

The WTO sees a sharper than expected slowing of the Chinese economy, a worsening of financial market volatility, and sharp exchange rate movements affecting countries holding large foreign debts as downward risks to its forecast.

“There remains as well the threat of creeping protectionism as many governments continue to apply trade restrictions and the stock of these barriers continues to grow,” says Azevêdo, adding that WTO members could work towards rolling back trade restrictive measures and implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement to improve growth.