WTO chief: Ready to talk with Trump

Azevedo ac­knowl­edges hear­ing con­cerns but in­sists WTO can still be ‘very im­por­tant part­ner’ to the United States


The impact of Don­ald Trump’s threat to pull the United States out of the Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship trade deal will de­pend on what the pres­i­dent-elect lays out as the al­ter­na­tive, the head of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion said Thurs­day.

WTO di­rec­tor-gen­eral Roberto Azevedo said he is “ready for a con­ver­sa­tion” with the pres­i­dent-elect, but hadn’t had any in­di­ca­tion Trump also wants to with­draw the US from the trade body he once called a dis­as­ter.

Azevedo, who is run­ning for re-elec­tion next year in a process in which the United States holds im­por­tant sway, said he wouldn’t spec­u­late about future US poli­cies.

“I am con­vinced that the WTO can con­tinue to be a very im­por­tant part­ner of the United States,” Azevedo said. But he said the trade body would con­tinue its work even if Trump with­draws the world’s big­gest econ­omy.

“The or­ga­ni­za­tion will con­tinue do­ing what the or­ga­ni­za­tion does,” he said.

How­ever, WTO spokesman Keith Rock­well clar­i­fied later that Azevedo had been re­fer­ring to the US pulling out of agree­ments like NAFTA or TTP — not the WTO as a whole.

Azevedo ac­knowl­edged hav­ing heard con­cerns about some types of trade, and sug­gested that more could be done to help small busi­nesses ben­e­fit, but “I haven’t heard, at this point in time, any­body say that trade is bad for the United States.”

All coun­tries com­plain about trade rules, he said.

“Ev­ery sin­gle coun­try says that the other side is sub­si­diz­ing too much, or is in­tro­duc­ing bar­ri­ers, or is not trad­ing fairly. I mean re­ally, is that the first time we hear that?” Azevedo said. “Trade is not for am­a­teurs. Trade is tough. And ne­go­ti­at­ing trade deals is as tough as it gets.”

In a short video on Monday, Trump said he plans to with­draw the United States from the TPP, call­ing it “a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter for our coun­try.”

He said he would in­stead ne­go­ti­ate “fair, bi­lat­eral trade deals that bring jobs and in­dus­try back onto Amer­i­can shores.”

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump also called the WTO a dis­as­ter.

Azevedo said the impact of los­ing the US from TTP or an­other trade pact would vary based on the terms the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­poses.

“So is that a rene­go­ti­a­tion of the TTP, is that a sub­sti­tu­tion of the TTP with an­other net­work of agree­ments, is that the launch­ing of an­other ini­tia­tive to have other trade deals?” he said.

Over­all, the WTO chief said the out­look for world trade was “dis­mal”. He said the trade body had re­vised its fore­cast for trade growth down to 1.8 per­cent this year, com­pared to 2.8 per­cent pre­vi­ously.

That would be the slow­est growth rate since 2009, and is “a rea­son for con­cern”, he said.

Roberto Azevedo, WTO di­rec­tor­gen­eral

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