June 20, 2019 / 2:26 PM / in a month

WTO chief keen to see Trump-Xi meeting, real easing of tensions

GENEVA (Reuters) - World leaders meeting in Japan next week must take real action on trade and not simply renew their call for easing of trade tensions, World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo told reporters on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo attends a news conference on the annual global trade forecast at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

A meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Osaka summit would be “a welcome sign”, Azevedo told the U.N. journalists’ association ACANU in Geneva.

Azevedo said the WTO would publish its latest monitoring report next week, showing G20 economies were imposing new trade barriers at a rate well above the historical average, with no sign of the trend abating.

Trump has dubbed himself “tariff man” and has made increasing use of high import tariffs or the threat of such tariffs.

“As far as the WTO is concerned, we do hope that trade-restrictive measures are rolled back at some point in time, because they are, as I said before, affecting global economic growth and trade,” Azevedo said.

Azevedo said it was clear Trump saw tariffs as an important tool to gain negotiating leverage, and he was not the first to do so, but higher tariffs would disrupt supply chains, deter investment and add to already high levels of global uncertainty.

“So I don’t think that we are talking about a situation where anybody wins, frankly. Everybody loses. And the poorer, the more vulnerable the country, the poorer and the more vulnerable the citizen, the more negatively affected.”

Trump has cited national security concerns as a basis for several of his tariffs, including those already imposed on steel and aluminium imports, and another tariff that he is considering imposing on imports of cars and car parts.

Azevedo said the WTO was not the place to settle disputes involving national security, which were almost by definition political rather than technical questions, but if such disputes were brought to the WTO, it was ready to adjudicate.

Asked if he wanted the summit to agree a statement condemning protectionism, he said the WTO was against protectionism and in favour of liberalising trade, but it was up to the G20 leaders to decide the language of any declaration.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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