News ID: 232573
Published: 0351 GMT October 10, 2018

WTO chief calls on supporters to defend trade body as attacks mount

WTO chief calls on supporters to defend trade body as attacks mount

Roberto Azevêdo, the head of the World Trade Organization, called on defenders of the multilateral trading system to “raise their voices” to help it survive as it faced pressure from protectionist governments and growing public skepticism of the benefits of global trade.

Azevêdo made the appeal flanked by Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, and José Ángel Gurría, who leads the OECD — a joint event that highlighted their preoccupation with the deterioration in trade relations in recent months, reported. 

The remarks by all four chiefs of the world’s top institutions of economic governance in Bali, at the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank, marked an effort to push back against skepticism of the benefits of global trade and its rules. The comments amounted to implicit criticisms of Washington’s trade policies, even though the US was not named.

“Let me be clear, the trading system is not perfect, we never said it was. But it represents the best efforts of governments around the world working together for 70 years to find ways to co-operate on trade issues,” Azevêdo said.

“It took a lot of people and a lot of time to push the boulder this far up the hill and even keeping it in place requires constant effort.”

This week, the IMF issued a downward revision of its forecast for global growth on the back of the escalating trade disputes between the US and China, which resulted in tit-for-tat tariffs covering $360bn of products.


The WTO itself has been undermined by criticism from US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to pull out of the Geneva-based trade body unless it is reformed, and has resisted appointing new judges to a key dispute settlement panel. Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU trade commissioner, warned the panel was at risk of “collapse” in an interview with the Financial Times this week.

Lagarde, the head of the IMF, had already warned of the danger posed by protectionism, but said in some areas there had been progress at easing tension, including in the recent deal inked by the US with Canada and Mexico.

“Let us use that momentum to turn tension into rapprochement,” Lagarde said. “We know that trade has helped transform our world — by boosting productivity, spreading new technologies and making products more affordable,” she added.

While trade had also lifted many people out of poverty, particularly in the developing world, all four leaders said more attention needed to be paid to those people and communities left behind by globalization, with an emphasis on job retraining and expanded social safety nets.

But Gurría said these concerns were no reason to resort to protectionism.

“Do we dump it all and then suddenly start putting tariffs on each other? No,” said Gurría. Multilateral solutions are slower but the ownership is much greater and in the end it sticks,” he said.


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