WTO: Increase in World Trade Will Be Smaller Than Expected

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Roberto Azevedo, the new chief of the World Trade Organization, revised forecasts for global trade in 2013 and 2014 in conjunction with his inaugural address to the organization’s general council, Reuters reports.

Revising numbers put forth in April by his predecessor, Pascal Lamy, Azevedo claimed that world trade would increase by 2.5 percent this year and 4.5 percent in 2014. The previous forecasts projected 3.3 percent growth in world trade in 2013 and 5 percent growth in 2014. Azevedo indicated that the full statistics behind the projections would be released in a report later this month.

The bar was set high for Azevedo as he came into leadership of the WTO at the start of this month. Azevedo has inherited a precarious situation not only with respect to the global economy — with a potential recovery threatened by the tapering of quantitative easing, among other factors — but also with respect to trade agreements currently in place. The Doha round of trade agreements has come of age, and calls for revisions to the deal have stalled out in negotiations. Still, Azevedo is optimistic that progress could be made during talks in Bali this December, which some believe could lead to realized value of $1 trillion.

Azevedo also took the opportunity to address concerns that the WTO was losing relevance in the global sphere. He stressed the need to take action, claiming that, “The world will not wait for the WTO indefinitely” and outlining transparency and careful planning as the two steps that the organization needs to take in the lead up to the Bali talks.

Azevedo also stressed the importance of the WTO to the common people, saying that, “All of us need the WTO. Ordinary people need it too even though they don’t know it.” He added that he still thinks that the WTO can be a powerful, global force for good. ”I believe that the multilateral trading system can be the preeminent force supporting growth and development in the world — lifting people out of poverty, improving living standards and helping to put the global economy back on track,” he said.

Where Azevedo differs from his predecessor is in his attitude towards separate trade agreements, such as a potential deal between the United States and the European Union. While Lamy was critical of such ventures, Azevedo does not view them as harmful to the WTO, instead reiterating calls for progress on the world stage as well.

While a U.S.-EU deal would not be on the books for several years, negotiations between the U.S. and 10 Pacific Rim countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership may wrap up by the end of this year.

One good sign on the global scene was the declaration of the G20, which was held last week in St. Petersburg, to oppose protectionism in trade through 2016. However, despite the measure, which was one of the few at the summit that drew generally unilateral support, Azevedo is already looking forward to the Bali talks to provide a venue for improving world trade moving forward into the years to come.

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