GENEVA — The impact of Donald Trump’s threat to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will depend on what the president-elect lays out as the alternative, the head of the World Trade Organization said Thursday.
WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said he is “ready for a conversation” with the president-elect, but hadn’t had any indication Trump also wants to withdraw the U.S. from the trade body he once called a disaster.
Azevedo, who is running for re-election next year in a process in which the United States holds important sway, said he wouldn’t speculate about future U.S. policies.
“I am convinced that the WTO can continue to be a very important partner of the United States,” Azevedo said. But he said the trade body would continue its work even if Trump withdraws the world’s biggest economy.
“The organization will continue doing what the organization does,” he said.
However, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell clarified later that Azevedo had been referring to the U.S. pulling out of agreements like NAFTA or TTP — not the WTO as a whole.
Azevedo acknowledged having heard concerns about some types of trade, and suggested that more could be done to help small businesses benefit, but “I haven’t heard, at this point in time, anybody say that trade is bad for the United States.”
All countries complain about trade rules, he said.
“Every single country says that the other side is subsidizing too much, or is introducing barriers, or is not trading fairly. I mean really, is that the first time we hear that?” Azevedo said. “Trade is not for amateurs. Trade is tough. And negotiating trade deals is as tough as it gets.”
In a short video on Monday, Trump said he plans to withdraw the United States from the TPP, calling it “a potential disaster for our country.”
He said he would instead negotiate “fair, bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back onto American shores.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump also called the WTO a disaster.
Azevedo said the impact of losing the U.S. from TTP or another trade pact would vary based on the terms the Trump administration proposes.
“So is that a renegotiation of the TTP, is that a substitution of the TTP with another network of agreements, is that the launching of another initiative to have other trade deals?” he said.
Overall, the WTO chief said the outlook for world trade was “dismal.” He said the trade body had revised its forecast for trade growth down to 1.8 percent this year, compared to 2.8 percent previously.
That would be the slowest growth rate since 2009, and is “a reason for concern,” he said.