Time to speak up for trading system: WTO chief

Geneva: World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo has outlined economic and systemic threats posed by growing tensions in global trade and called on “everyone who believes in trade as a force for good” to speak up in its defence.

“Members are well aware of the growing crisis in global trade. Tensions are growing. New measures are being announced with increasing frequency,” Azevedo said at a meeting of the full WTO membership on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported.

He said there is real and justified concern about the escalation occurring in his speech carried on the WTO website.

“Whether or not you call it a trade war, certainly the first shots have been fired. Continued escalation would risk a major economic impact, which would pose a serious threat to jobs, growth, and recovery in all countries,” said the WTO chief.

He noted that there is also a potential systemic impact, which poses a greater long-term threat, particularly if countries begin to “accept this tit-for-tat dynamic as the new normal.”

Members have a duty to alert people to the potential risks and consequences, said Azevedo. He added that he has been consulting with members on the issues, and meeting with leaders and ministers.

“Trade touches all of our lives. So I am calling on everyone who believes in trade as a force for good to speak up. Now is the time,” said Azevedo.

He said there might be some progress as leaders are increasingly aware and engaged in WTO issues, in a way he has not seen before.

“There is renewed engagement from many members on systemic issues, bringing more focus on the WTO and how it can be improved,” said Azevedo, noting that this could, “potentially help us to find a path out of the current crisis.”

The director-general also addressed the impasse in appointments to the Appellate Body of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement body, stressing the gravity of the situation and the need for members to engage with renewed urgency.

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