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Cross-Section of WTO Countries Voice Concerns Over Rising Trade Tensions

The political rancor over trade, heightened in recent months by threats of high tariffs and renegotiating trade pacts, has caused high anxiety for countries and businesses around the world.

On Tuesday, 41 members of the World Trade Organization issued a joint statement expressing concerns over rising trade tensions and risks of escalating protectionism. The statement, delivered to a meeting of the WTO’s General Council, called on governments to resolve their differences through dialogue and cooperation, including through the WTO.

The co-sponsors of the statement, which include developed and developing country members, said a rules-based multilateral trading system embodied in the WTO was of “key importance for our economies, as well as for global economic stability, prosperity and development,” noting the recovery in world trade last year and the WTO’s encouraging positive trade forecast for 2018 and 2019.

“However, we are concerned about increased trade tensions and related risks for the multilateral trading system and world trade,” the group said. “We encourage WTO members to refrain from taking protectionist measures and to avoid risks of escalation. We call on members to resolve their differences through dialogue and cooperation, including through WTO bodies and, as appropriate, recourse to WTO dispute settlement.”

Signatories did not include the U.S. or China–the world’s two largest economies and the root of much of the angst stemming from their threats and counter-threats of punitive tariffs and their overall trade policies and stances. The U.S. and China held a first round of talks last week aimed at easing tensions without much accomplished but with more meetings on tap. Meanwhile, the U.S., Canada and Mexico are reportedly close to agreeing on a reworked North American Free Trade Agreement.

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The co-sponsors hailed from all inhabited continents. From Asia-Pacific, they included Australia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Loa People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. From the Americas, signers included Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

African countries signing the statement were Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali and Nigeria, and from Europe and elsewhere there was Iceland, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Norway, Qatar, Switzerland, Macedonia, Turkey and Ukraine.

The co-sponsors also called for action to address major challenges facing the WTO, including overcoming difficulties in concluding negotiations and divergent positions on trade and development.