July 27 — Geneva's top trade negotiator said the World Trade Organization (WTO) must do a better job of helping people understand the benefits of trade liberalization.
“I don't think we do enough in making the case for trade,” said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo during a July 27 news conference. “We think trade is so obviously positive for any economy it is like trying to argue with a friend that he needs to breathe.”
“Seventy to 90 percent of the jobs that were lost in the manufacturing sector were lost to new technologies; they were lost to innovation; they were lost to improvements in efficiency,” Azevedo said. “It had nothing to do with imports; it had nothing to do with trade competition.”
“Those numbers, that kind of information has to be out there in a more forceful structured and clear way,” Azevedo said.
Azevedo said it's “difficult to speculate” about how the debate over China's market economy status will be resolved amid signals that the issue could trigger a serious trade dispute between Washington and Beijing.
The matter centers on Article 15 of China's 2001 WTO accession agreement, which allows WTO members to calculate Chinese antidumping duties based on comparable market-based prices or costs in third countries. The U.S. and other WTO members must determine whether they will use Chinese prices or costs in antidumping investigations when that article expires Dec. 11.
U.S. trade officials appear willing to engage China in a WTO dispute over the matter and previously told Bloomberg BNA that nothing in China's accession agreement requires countries to automatically consider China a market economy after Dec. 11 (136 ITD, 7/15/16).
“It's not surprising” that China and the U.S. “have friction,” Azevedo said. “What is important is that they try to figure it out through dialogue.”
Azevedo said he “hopes” the U.S. and China will bring any trade disputes that they cannot solve bilaterally to the WTO dispute settlement system.
If the U.S. provokes China into filing a WTO dispute, it's unlikely that the disagreement would have a negative effect on other WTO proceedings, Azevedo told Bloomberg BNA.
Issues tend to be “depoliticized when you take it to that forum,” Azevedo said. “It is a legal evaluation, a technical evaluation. It tends to not contaminate other areas of work,” he said.
Azevedo declined to comment on the recent suggestion by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that he would seek to pull out of the WTO if its members challenged his trade policies (143 ITD, 7/26/16).
“I will leave the debate to happen between the candidates,” Azevedo told reporters. “Everyone knows what I think about the WTO; its importance, its relevance.”
“Everybody knows what I think about trade—the importance of trade for successful development and job creation,” Azevedo said. “I say that every day, so I don't think I need to stress that anymore.”
Azevedo announced July 27 that he would seek another four-year term as director-general of the Geneva-based trade body.
“It would be unhelpful to have uncertainty at this point in time, given that we have a lot of work to develop if we want to get things done with the timelines ahead of us,” Azevedo said.
Azevedo also detailed the progress that the organization achieved during his first term, including a 2014 accord to cut trade costs and a 2015 agreement to reduce export subsidies.
His announcement sets into motion a months-long process by which WTO members will determine whether to confirm him or an alternative candidate by consensus agreement. Other candidates for the post have until Dec. 1 to announce their intent to seek the position.
The 57-year-old Brazilian national oversaw what many trade officials view as successful WTO ministerial conferences in Bali and Nairobi. Azevedo is the WTO's sixth director-general and his first term took effect on Sept. 1, 2013.
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