Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov16/18)
30 November 2016
Third World Network
WTO can continue to be an important partner of the US, says D-G
Published in SUNS #8364 dated 28 November 2016
Geneva, 25 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- The Director-General (D-G) of the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) said on Thursday (24 November) that
he has had no indication that US President-elect Donald Trump would
move to pull the United States out of the organisation, adding that
the WTO can continue to be a very important partner of the United
Speaking at an event hosted by the Association of Correspondents Accredited
to the United Nations (ACANU) here, Director-General Roberto Azevedo
said that he is ready to talk to Mr Trump just like he is ready to
talk to any leader of any other WTO member whenever they are ready
to do so.
Asked whether US President-elect Trump was serious in his suggestion
during his election campaign that the US could leave the WTO, Azevedo
said, "I haven't had any indication from anybody that that would
be the case."
"But I think at this point in time, what we have to do is to
be ready for a conversation. I myself as the Director-General am convinced
that the WTO can continue to be a very important partner of the United
States and of the other major trading partners in this task of seeking
a more dynamic growth environment globally," he said, adding
that trade is a very important component of that.
"So I think at this point in time," said the DG, "what
we can do is be ready for a conversation and be ready to engage in
deepening the partnership that we have with the United States and
all other WTO members".
Asked if he had talked to Trump since the election, Azevedo said that
he has not talked to him, "and I am ready to talk to him like
I am ready to talk to any leader of any other WTO member whenever
they are ready to do that."
"I told them that I am available whenever they are ready to have
a conversation and I do that to pretty much every leader when they
take office. The first thing I do is I write a letter to all of them
(to) tell that the WTO is ready to continue to work with them, to
deepen the partnership, that we think that the WTO can be a part of
their strategies and that I am ready to meet and talk to them whenever
they are ready."
Asked about Trump statement that he will withdraw the US from the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement on the day he takes office,
Azevedo said that as a trade negotiator and subsequently as Director-General
of the WTO, "I am always very cautious in analysing situations
from the basis of (news) headlines."
"I think we have to look at the details, we have to look at what
is actually done in that context. Would there be re-negotiations?
Would there be a negotiation of another net of agreements? Would there
be another initiative replacing that? Would there be another trade
policy that would come into place seeking to advance their interests?"
Azevedo was of the view that it is very early to decide what the implications
are. "We have the responsibility to wait and see what the effect
will be of any decision taken in the early days of any administration,
and see what the overall strategic policy for trade will be."
Azevedo also said that he just does not know what the trade policies
are. "I heard different statements, or different sentences, which
are taken out of the context of what the discussion could be looking
at the whole strategic definition of what trade policies will look
He further said: "I don't think that we have even the new team
in place, though I think we have to give them a chance to sit down,
look at this from a broader perspective, look at this in an environment
where there will be other components in play other than votes, and
see what will come out of that discussion."
"At that point in time, once we see what the trade policies are,
I think that's the kind of conversation that we should be having,
and see what the impact of that would be globally, whether there are
"Many of the things that were said, I don't disagree with. Other
things that were said, I have doubts about what they mean. So I would
like to hear more clearly what they mean in the context of the global
policy that will be adopted at the right time," said the DG.
Asked if he had a plan for the WTO in case Trump decides to take action,
Azevedo said that the organisation will continue doing what it does.
In other words, all these agreements that happen outside the WTO are
not new, and have been happening since 1947 and even before that,
and they will continue to happen.
Asked if he is worried about Trump's threat to pull out of the TPP
and re-negotiate NAFTA, which will be a hit against free trade, the
DG said that it depends on what else comes with the measure.
"So, is that a re-negotiation of the TPP? Is that a substitution
of the TPP with another network of agreements? Is that the launching
of another initiative to have bilateral trade deals? Depending on
all these other things that would happen together with that, you would
have a different answer to your question."
"And you would have a different impact on trade and trade liberalisation,"
he said. "I haven't heard, at this point in time, anybody say
that trade is bad for the United States... I have heard sometimes
concerns with certain types of trade or certain types of competition
that are deemed to be unfair or whether certain types of agreements
are deemed to be unbalanced."
Earlier, Azevedo said that any talk about trade today cannot happen
without looking at the broader context.
"The outlook for trade is dismal. We have revised the forecast
for 2016 from 2.8% to 1.7% and if this does actually happen, it will
be the slowest pace of trade growth since 2009."
He also highlighted recent political developments. In Europe, Brexit
has a very strong trade component and "we have to keep an eye
There are many elections going on in the major trading partners, "so
we have to be looking closely at trade policy adjustments in whatever
direction. So we have to keep an eye on that also."
On top of that even in many of those elections, it is clear that there
is also a sense in some communities that trade can be disruptive and
that it may cause harm to certain communities that are affected by
competitive and cheap imports.
"And I think this is a legitimate point. Trade does have sometimes
a disruptive effect. The fact is that while it does that there is
no doubt that trade brings overall benefits to the economy, particularly
the economies that are more open and that embrace trade more freely
are the ones that develop most and are growing faster and that have
better chances of sustainable growth," said Azevedo.
"However, if we don't look at this undercurrent that we see more
visibly even in advanced economies, we will be missing an important
part of the picture," he said.
"We realise that those undercurrents are strongly associated
with feelings of being marginalised and with feelings of lack of support
and associated also with the shifts that are happening in the labour
"What we have identified so far in early studies that the WTO
is conducting is that trade is a very small component particularly
in the issue of labour markets. Out of every ten jobs that are lost
in an advanced economy, normally not more than two are lost due to
trade. The other eight are lost due to innovation, new technologies,
It is not trade that is provoking unemployment, it is the constant
and very effective search for higher productivity levels, Azevedo
maintained. "So any response to that, I think will have to be
cross-cutting and horizontal."
"If you don't have the right diagnosis, you don't have the right
medicine. If the medicine is simply protectionism, the outcome will
be that you will harm the patient."
He said that in the WTO, at this point in time, "we see a lot
of dynamism. WTO members are energised by the fact that we have been
very successful in the last two ministerial conferences with the outcomes
that we had both in Bali (2013) and Nairobi (2015)."
Azevedo said that some "big ticket items" would be the Trade
Facilitation Agreement which is an agreement that would increase exports
around the world by $1 trillion, the Information Technology Agreement
(ITA) expansion which covers $1.3 trillion in trade and the elimination
of export subsidies for agricultural products.
He also pointed to the Environmental Goods Agreement, "which
we are trying to finalize this year", covering more than $200
Looking at the ministerial conference in Buenos Aires (MC11 in December
next year), he said that negotiations and conversations about what
we can achieve at that point in time are ongoing.
There seems to be relative consensus among members that "we want
to do something, we want to deliver things there."
"The other thing that is also consensual is that we have to be
realistic of what can be done. So we have to be mindful that any outcome
in any area of the conversation will not be the end of the road. It
will just be one more step in the direction that we set to ourselves."
Azevedo said that members are working on the ‘traditional issues'
like agriculture, services, industrial goods, rules, particularly
fisheries subsidies, and also areas which are not so traditional,
like the emphasis being given to small and medium-sized enterprises,
He also pointed to a range of other issues.
"What we lack at this point in time is clarity about what they
(members) want to achieve in each of those areas," said Azevedo.
He said that the path to MC11 and what will be harvested there will
be in the hands of members.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, earlier this
week defended the role of international trade and how it can help
developing countries in creating more jobs and tackling inequality.
In an article published in The Guardian newspaper on 23 November,
and excerpts of which were made available in an UNCTAD press release,
Dr Kituyi said: "As an ex-politician myself, I know that politicians
must do a better, more honest job of discussing the costs and benefits
"Too often in the global north, leaders, dictated by electoral
needs, talk down trade, storing up problems for the future,"
the press release quoted him as saying.
"To blame trade for job losses is to use a convenient scapegoat,
but it ignores both the benefits of trade and the disruptive nature
of technology," Dr Kituyi said.
"Trade does not explain the relative decline in labour productivity.
Nor does it account for the erosion in social protection."
According to the UNCTAD head, what trade does do is provide the jobs
required by rising populations in the developing countries.
"The nature of trade is changing, shifting to services, to developing
countries, and to more being done online. But it is always going to
generate jobs. And this is an urgent priority for any sensible politician,"
he said. +