THERE is a message for people of goodwill everywhere to be found in the fact that commerce in goods and services - world trade - as often as not refuses to be governed by the sharp junctures and waymarks of the calendar.
Granted, there are seasonal trading patterns, when certain types of goods cross boundaries and turn up as gifts to be put under a special tree, or to observe some particular religious or national festivity. But by and large, when it comes to the traffic of commerce, calendars take a somewhat secondary place to a larger pattern of purpose and activity.
That sense of continuity is important to recognize in a world that so often seems splintered and compartmentalized by its many private and national agendas, as well as close attention to times and seasons. A new year, rightly observed, can be a time for account taking - for oneself, the community, the nation, and the world. Thus, each year should become an improvement on the prior year, a step of progress for all nations and peoples. And the very possibility of success for each new year can stem from the improvement of the present moment.
For all of the many challenges that marked the world during the past year - including armed conflict in Central America, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, as well as hunger in Africa - the world economy turned in a reasonably good performance during 1984. Far too many peoples, unfortunately, continue to be left on the sidelines of that recovery. All the same, many nations, sparked by a strong recovery in the US, posted growth.
The challenge, now that the economy has slowed somewhat in the United States, will be to keep the larger world recovery on track. It is incumbent on national leaders to recognize that the well-being of their nations is inextricably linked to the growth of the global economy. That means that nations must be willing to set aside shortsighted domestic policies such as protectionism.
Most private economists now believe that the US, Western Europe, and East Asia, will show reasonable expansion during 1985. According to Data Resources Inc., for example, growth in the US will be about 2.5 percent or so next year, substantially less than the 6 percent to 7 percent growth this year, but still on the plus side of the economic ledger. For the Common Market nations of Western Europe, growth is expected to register around 2.3 percent, up slightly from the 2.1 percent growth this year. The full impact of the recovery is coming later to Western Europe than was the case with the US. In Asia, meanwhile, the Japanese economy is expected to show slightly slower growth - 3.5 percent to 4 percent, down from this year's more impressive 6 percent. The more modest growth in Japan is expected to somewhat slow the growth rates of the rest of East Asia, since so many Asian nations are linked to Japan's economy.
Linked! Isn't that what the current recovery has so vividly underscored? Yet, even as the recovery slows somewhat, more and more voices are heard calling for protectionism and trade curbs.
Simplification is always risky in assessing the world economy. But some specific steps seem to have priority as the calendar moves into 1985:
* The US recovery remains the key to the world recovery. The US must reduce its massive budget deficits to bring down interest rates and restore its international trade competitiveness.
* Europe and Japan must take all possible steps to encourage world trade - and avoid protectionism. This week's meeting between President Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone is particularly important. The two nations should expand their commerce.
* Multinational financial agencies such as the World Bank, as well as individual nations, must find new ways of providing credit to third-world nations to enable developing nations to continue buying imports while at the same time meeting their international debt payments. Additional debt reschedulings would be helpful. Meantime, developing nations need to do a better job than has been the case in managing their own economies.
So then, gratitude seems in order for the continuing recovery that marked 1984. The challenge - indeed, responsibility - for the world's leaders in 1985 is to keep that recovery on track for the benefit of all nations.