European Union finance ministers today expressed concern 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. 

G20 finance ministers and central bankers made only a token reference to trade in their communique, acquiescing to an increasingly protectionist US after a two-day meeting in Germany failed to yield a compromise.

This broke the G20's decade-long tradition of endorsing open trade. 

"The atmosphere wasn't negative or acrimonious. However, it was surreal because the G20 is meant to find overall co-operation," said Finance Minister Edward Scicluna of Malta, current holder of the European Union presidency.

He made his comments on his arrival at a regular meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels. 

"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," he added. 

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 globalisation 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.