Geneva (AFP) – The head of the World Trade Organization said Thursday he had received no indication the United States would move to leave the WTO under Donald Trump’s administration.
“I haven’t had any indication from anybody that that could be the case,” WTO chief Roberto Azevedo told reporters.
During his campaign, in which he repeatedly attacked global trade deals, President-elect Trump called the WTO a “disaster” and said the US would “pull out” of the Geneva-based body if Washington was not able renegotiate the rules on major issues like tariffs.
But Azevedo stressed it was premature to speculate on what Trump may do in office.
“I just don’t know what the trade policies are,” Azevedo said of the incoming administration, adding he had not spoken to Trump personally since the 70-year-old real-estate mogul’s shock election win on November 8.
“I told them I am available whenever they are ready to have a conversation,” Azevedo said, indicating he has had contact with the Trump transition team.
The WTO boss further said that he was reluctant to make assumptions about the new administration “on the basis of headlines” and Trump should be given an opportunity to assess the issue of global trade “from a broader perspective”.
Washington’s new government needs space to “look at (trade) in an environment where there will be other components in play other than votes,” said Azevedo, a Brazilian national.
– Disruptive force –
But, Azevedo conceded that huge numbers of people worldwide had come to see global trade as a job killer even though such perceptions were not supported by evidence.
“Trade does have sometimes a disruptive effect,” he said, but warned against wrongly diagnosing the impact of global commerce.
Citing WTO research, he said two in 10 job losses may be caused by international trade, but the remaining eight losses were the result of new technologies replacing human labour.
Any fixes to the broader globalisation project must therefore not include reactionary, protectionist measures.
“If the medicine is simply protectionism, the outcome will be that you harm the patient,” Azevedo said, underscoring that innovation, which is the main driver of job losses, is supported by virtually every political leader.
– Redouble the case for trade –
Azevedo suggested that politicians had been able to use global trade as a scapegoat for economic woes and job losses because leaders had stopped defending it.
“A mistake that was done in the past, even from organisations like mine, is that people took trade for granted,” the WTO boss said.
“Trade is so obviously a positive (economic) component… that people forgot to explain why,” he continued. “You have to make the case for trade again.”
Trump’s most dramatic pledge on trade since his election win was a vow to pull the US of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact on his first day in the White House.
The TPP is President Barack Obama’s signature trade initiative which still needs approval from the Republican-dominated Congress.
Asia leader have said that without US inclusion the pact was essentially meaningless.
The TPP was not negotiated through the WTO but Azevedo has voiced support for it and other regional trade deals, which he says complement the WTO’s objectives.
In a short video message on Tuesday, 70-year-old property tycoon Trump called the TPP “a potential disaster for our country”.