The European Central Bank left its policy stance unchanged as expected today, while it raised its euro zone economic growth forecasts for this year and next, ECB President Mario Draghi said.

It now expects growth of 1.8% in 2017 and 1.7% in 2018, compared with earlier forecasts of 1.7% and 1.6%, respectively, Mr Draghi said. 

For 2019, the ECB maintained its prediction of 1.6% gross domestic product growth.

It also kept its unprecedented stimulus in place and maintained ts dovish guidance even though inflation and growth have rebounded more quickly than expected. 

Facing low inflation and weak growth, the ECB has kept interest rates in negative territory and bonds purchases at €80 billion a month, promising substantial accommodation and an extended market presence to aid the euro zone's recovery. 

Although recent data have surprised on the upside, the inflation surge is likely to be temporary. 

Forthcoming elections in some of the bloc's biggest economies, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, are also clouding the outlook. 

The vast majority of economist polled by Reuters expect the ECB to stay its hand, at least in the first half of the year, having done enough for growth to remain on the sidelines until the most contentious elections are over. 

Repeating its standard forward guidance, the ECB said that it continues to expect its key interest rates to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time and well past the horizon of its net asset purchases. 

It also repeated that its asset buys, scheduled to be cut by a quarter from April, could be increased or extended if the outlook becomes less favourable. 

The ECB today kept its rate on bank overnight deposits, which is currently its primary interest rate tool, at -0.4%. 

The main refinancing rate, which determines the cost of credit in the economy, was unchanged at 0% while the rate on the marginal lending facility - or emergency overnight borrowing rate for banks - remains at 0.25%.

Meanwhile, Mario Draghi said that the Group of 20 major world economies should reaffirm its commitment to open trade when it meets in mid-March.

His comments come after rumours the G20 may drop a reference to opposing protectionism. 

Mr Draghi also said the G20 should also retain its commitment to not using exchange rates to enhance competitiveness. 

"It's quite important that the G20 reaffirms this commitment," Draghi said at a news conference after the ECB's policy meeting. 

"I was commenting before on the commitments concerning the exchange rates. I think I can say the same about the commitments of keeping open trade. They have been the pillars of prosperity for many, many years - many decades," he said. 

An early draft of the communique for the March 17-18 meeting suggested the G20 finance ministers and central bankers may no longer explicitly reject protectionism or competitive currency devaluations, after the US accused some trade partners, including Germany, of exploiting a weak currency. 

Asked about the communique, Draghi said: "I know of the rumours but I don't know what to say about that, where they come from, whether they're true or not." 

Finance ministers and central bank heads from the G20 will meet on March 17-18 in the German town of Baden Baden to discuss the world economy.