Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr16/06)
13 April 2016
Third World Network
soft-pedals on US trade policy after elections, and WTO
Published in SUNS #8218 dated 11 April 2016
Geneva, 8 Apr (D. Ravi Kanth) -- In the face of growing anti-trade
sentiment and opposition to bilateral and regional trade deals in
the United States, evident in the current phase of Democratic and
Republican party primaries in the US, the World Trade Organization
director-general Roberto Azevedo on Thursday (7 April) sought to soft-pedal,
if not pussyfoot, around likely US trade policy after the US Presidential
elections, saying that he cannot comment on the statements made by
At a press conference, after release of the latest world trade figures
issued by the WTO, Azevedo said he was ready to answer a question
on the US Presidential elections, and the Brexit or Britain's referendum
to decide whether to stay in the European Union or exit.
Having opened himself to questions on the US Presidential elections
that have generated considerable debate around the prevailing anti-NAFTA
(North American Free Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)
agreements, Azevedo said: "As far as the US elections [are concerned],
if you are referring to what candidates are saying, I cannot comment
on candidates' statements."
He then went on to add, "candidates can say anything [and] officials
cannot do anything."
"So, we have to see what becomes of [the] US trade policy once
the change of government is effected," Azevedo said.
"We have to wait before we comment on anything regarding the
particular positions on the multilateral process," the director-general
Given the opposition to bilateral and regional trade agreements concluded
by the successive US administrations, voiced by both Democratic and
Republican contenders in party primaries for the Presidential elections
in November, it remains unclear whether the US trade policy will pursue
an aggressive trade liberalization agenda, according to several analysts.
Clearly, Azevedo preferred caution before identifying with any one
party in the US, according to trade envoys.
According to several trade envoys who asked not to be identified,
Azevedo has begun campaigning for his second term before the election
for the director-general begins later in December.
He has recently visited a dozen countries in Africa, Asia, Caribbean,
and South America, ostensibly for providing advice on how to overcome
economic and trade problems. However, his visits have really to do
with his re-election campaign, trade envoys said.
Azevedo's leanings towards Washington and his efforts at the WTO to
advance only the US agenda have raised scepticism in a major European
capital, a Western trade envoy told the SUNS.
"I'm not sure that the EU is ready to support him for the second
term," the envoy said, preferring to voice his view in anonymity.
The EU had been divided in its support for Azevedo in 2013 as a majority
of countries supported the Mexican candidate Herminio Blanco and some
13 countries supported Azevedo.
As for the referendum in the UK on the continuation of Britain's membership
in the European Union, Azevedo said trade has always been a very important
component of the British economy and the United Kingdom has always
relied on trade in goods and services.
"Therefore, (Britain) leaving the EU will have important consequences,"
he said. Azevedo said how it would affect the UK and its relations
with other countries is a matter of speculation at this juncture.
It would also depend on the terms, if the separation happens, and
it would depend on the relationship that would ensue between the UK
and the EU, he suggested.
Further, the Brexit also depends on the negotiations that Britain
would have with WTO members to clarify the rights and obligations
at that point of time, Azevedo said, suggesting that the whole issue
needs to be looked into carefully.
Ultimately, "it is the sovereign decision of the UK government
and I would withhold my comments," he said.
As for world trade, it is clear that 2015 has struck a serious blow
to developing countries, particularly commodity exporting nations
as the value of their exports, particularly oil and iron ore among
others, dropped precipitously.
Indeed, world trade nearly collapsed in value terms last year due
to a drop of 13% to $16.5 trillion, from $19 trillion in 2014.
Developing countries are forced to sell much more in volume terms
to stay afloat.
World trade is expected to grow by 2.8% this year and 3.6% next year
subject to several downside risks. The risks include the slowing Chinese
economy, continued volatility in the financial market, and persisting
negative business sentiment.
The divergent movements in volume and value remain a source of concern
which "could undermine fragile economic growth in vulnerable
economies," Azevedo acknowledged.
The drop in dollar value of world trade was largely due to strong
fluctuations in commodity prices and exchange rates, "which were
in turn driven by slowing economic growth in China", resilient
oil production in the US, and divergent monetary policies across leading