The head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Roberto Azevédo, has issued a warning at the World Economic Forum that protectionist policies and trade wars would cost jobs. His comments came hours before Donald Trump becomes President of the United States with an apparent purpose of redrafting trade relations with some countries.
“I have heard a lot of talk here [in Davos] about protectionism and trade wars. That would destroy jobs, it would not create job,” he said at a WEF press conference. “I am urging everyone to show caution, to show leadership. We must definitely not talk ourselves into a crisis.”
Azevédo did not refer specifically to the US, and told journalists at the press conference that he had not yet had any contact with the Trump team. “I have heard that the United States has concerns on trade,” he said. “That’s fair, everyone does.”
He added that challenges to the WTO could provide “opportunities” for positive change. “When an important delegation, like the US, tells us ‘we think the system can be improved’, that’s good news,” he said. “There is always an opportunity to improve.”
During his election campaign, Trump said he would withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) international trade deal negotiations.
In Davos this week, key Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci told delegates that the US intends to re-write “asymmetric” trade conditions with some countries, most notably China. “If China really believes in globalisation then they have to now reach towards us and allow us to create symmetry,” he said.
Also at the press conference, Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said that the informal mini-WTO conference held on the fringes of WEF had been “intensive and constructive”. Schneider-Amman had chaired the meeting of 29 international ministers.
Reading from a prepared statement from all ministers, Schneider-Amman said “protectionism is not the right answer to anti-trade sentiment and concerns about technological change. Instead, trade should be made more inclusive and its benefits spread more widely.”
He added that there was now “a lot of work” to be done before the 11th WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires.