UN General-Secretary warns of global impact over US-China trade war

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, waits on the podium, prior to addressing a Special Session of the WTO's General Council, at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization, WTO, in Geneva, Switzerland, 10 May 2019. EPA-EFE/SALVATORE DI NOLFI

GENEVA.- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres defended dialogue and multilateral cooperation as a means to overcome commercial tensions, in reference to the trade war between the United States and China.

«It is essential that tensions continue to be resolved through multilateral dialogue and cooperation,» Guterres said in Geneva on Friday in the first address given by a UN official to the governing body of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“When trade tensions rise there are no winners, only losers among developing countries,” he added.

WTO, made up of 164 member states, has become a collateral victim of the unilateral decisions taken by the administration of US President Donald Trump in the area of ??international trade, of which one of the most serious has been the imposition of additional tariffs on aluminum and steel to several producing countries.

On May 5, Trump had set a deadline of midnight Thursday for a deal to be struck with Beijing.

This was not reached and at one minute past midnight on Friday, the US raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Increased tariffs affect more than a third of Chinese exports to the US annually, including products such as cereals, textiles, construction materials, chemicals and fuels.

This measure opened a kind of «trade war» that has faced the two countries since last year, which are holding crucial negotiations in Washington, whose outcome will depend on whether the tension deepens or if a phase of distension.

Guterres highlighted in his speech that in this clash not only is the future relationship of the US and China at stake, but also the multilateral trading system, which allows even the smallest economies to have the opportunity to defend their interests.

Under that principle, he argued that beyond what Chinese and Americans have to lose, it will be the poorest countries that will be worse off.

He called on the international community to “recognize the critical role of trade” and to revitalize partnerships and commit to a “universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable, multilateral trading system.”

He said that “significant obstacles have emerged in our efforts to harness the positive force of globalization for sustainable development.”

Guterres argued that the economy has been transformed into the thread of globalization, whose diverse impacts generate fear, but he added that at the same time it has created «vast opportunities for growth and development.»

In less than twenty years, the share of developing countries in world trade has gone from less than 30 percent to 45 percent, despite facing a “growing discontent with globalization trade tensions have escalated over the past year to threaten growth in international trade and the very foundation of the rules-based multilateral trading system.”

The general director of the WTO, Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, said that Guterres has a broad perspective to assess the way in which the global economy and political forces are interacting «in a way that we had not seen before.»

While the Trump Administration has presented its commercial decisions as a show of defense of its sovereignty, Azevedo said that the common rules negotiated within the WTO «are not violations of sovereignty, but expressions of it.»

He continued that the credibility of any rule depends on the capacity to enforce it, an issue that is currently at the heart of the WTO’s concerns.

The WTO dispute settlement system, which allows any member state to denounce another if it believes it is violating a commercial standard and that this harms it, is threatened by the US blockade for the renewal of its members.

The United Kingdom Chancellor Philip Hammond has warned that a «full-blown trade war» between the US and China «would be very dangerous» for the global economy.

He told Sky News on Friday that he feels concerned about the situation but was «optimistic» that a total trade war could be avoided.

«It is very important for us in the UK because our economy is very open, so it is very exposed to what happens in the rest of the world,» he added.

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