WTO Chief Warns of Eco­nomic Dan­ger of Trade War


WASH­ING­TON (Dis­patches) All coun­tries will lose in a global trade war, the head of the world’s trade ref­eree warned in a speech on Wed­nes­day.

Un­der at­tack from U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the head of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Roberto Azevedo, ac­knowl­edged that re­forms are needed, but re­jected crit­i­cism that trade is the main cause of job losses.

Azevedo wel­comed the com­mit­ment by the Group of 20 over the week­end in Buenos Aires to re­form the WTO to bet­ter pre­side over the mod­ern trad­ing sys­tem, say­ing the “sys­tem can be bet­ter.”

But as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has ag­gres­sively im­posed puni­tive tar­iffs on trad­ing partners, es­pe­cially on China, with the goal of re­duc­ing the U.S. trade deficit, Azevedo said that “we have to get away from the idea that trade is a zero-sum propo­si­tion.”

“It is not. Ev­ery­one can ben­e­fit,” he said in a speech to the Na­tional For­eign Trade Coun­cil.

He wel­comed the U.S.-China truce reached in Buenos Aires, and the com­mit­ment to reach a deal to defuse the con­flict be­tween the world’s two big­gest economies.

The al­ter­na­tive of es­ca­lat­ing the trade con­flict would un­der­mine the global eco­nomic re­cov­ery, he said.

The “out­come in all sim­u­la­tions is that trade and eco­nomic growth will slow down and that all coun­tries, with­out ex­cep­tions, will lose out in a global trade war,” Azevedo said.

That is a warn­ing the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund also has is­sued.

Azevedo ac­knowl­edged the grow­ing anx­i­ety in a chang­ing econ­omy, but stressed that most of the job losses are due to tech­no­log­i­cal change, rather than trade.

Trade is “an en­gine of growth, pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­no­va­tion, job cre­ation,” he said.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has blocked the work­ings of the WTO dis­pute ar­bi­tra­tion sys­tem.

Azevedo again flagged the dan­gers of that path, say­ing it could un­der­mine the WTO. But he said that af­ter the agree­ment by the G20, “I be­lieve that this is a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity to re­new the trad­ing sys­tem.”

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