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Geneva trade official backs WTO, says it serves US interests

By ASSOCIATED PRESS   

Economy General Government Manufacturing China Economy government manufacturing tariffs trade WTO

Disagrees with Trump's bid to work around the multilateral system by making bilateral deals with individual countries.

GENEVA — The director of a key multilateral trade agency said she is worried about efforts to “exaggerate” the shortcomings of the World Trade Organization and insisted the trade body “serves the US’s interests.”

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, International Trade Centre Executive Director Arancha Gonzalez stopped short of directly criticizing President Donald Trump, who has had harsh words for the World Trade Organization. The centre is an agency of the WTO and the United Nations.

But Gonzalez disagreed with Trump’s bid to work around the multilateral system championed by the WTO by making bilateral deals with individual countries.

“I’m ruthless with those that say that we have to throw away the multilateral trading system,” she said at the UN compound in Geneva. “I worry a lot about the World Trade Organization, and I worry because I see a tendency today to exaggerate its (faults) and ignore its successes – and I think this is not good.”

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Gonzalez pointed to the fading of the longtime consensus that international trade, by fostering competition, could be a “win-win” for countries.

Now, she said, “parts of the world” have the view “that international trade is win-lose at best, if not lose-lose, and this is a fundamental change.”

Trump has said that the WTO is unfair to the United States, an idea Gonzalez sought to debunk.

“My very clear belief is that the WTO serves the US. It serves the US interests,” Gonzalez said. “Take a look at exporters of soya bean in the US: They have increased exports to China since China became a member of the WTO by more than 20%.” China joined in 2001.

Amid a yawing US trade deficit with China, Trump has led efforts to slap penalties on $150 billion worth of imports from China – creating fears of a trade war among investors and wild swoons in stock markets. China has responded with a decision to tax $50 billion in US products like soybeans and small aircraft.

The two countries – the world’s two biggest economies – have taken action at the WTO to try to resolve their differences.

The WTO predicts continued trade growth this year, though it warned tensions and retaliatory measures, notably between the US and China, could compromise those gains.

Azevedo laid out the trade body’s predictions at a news conference amid concerns about a trade war over Trump’s planned tariffs on Chinese and other goods and Beijing’s retaliation.

As it stands, the forecast is for 4.4% growth in merchandise trade volumes in 2018, easing to 4%  next year. That’s down from 4.7%  in 2017.

The WTO says there are “broadly positive signs” in world trade but notes they face headwinds from “a rising tide of anti-trade sentiment and the increased willingness of governments to employ restrictive trade measures.”

Azevedo told reporters the forecast “reflects the stronger economic growth that we have been seeing in both developed and developing countries, and which is forecast to continue.”

“But let me be clear: these forecasts do not – and I repeat, they do not – factor-in the possibility of a dramatic escalation of trade restrictions.”

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