World Trade Organization members should avoid putting up barriers and “get trade moving again” in order to address slow global economic growth, according to the director-general’s mid-year report on trade-related developments issued Monday.
The “Trade Monitoring Report” concludes that the “best safeguard we have against protectionism is a strong multilateral trading system.”
The report shows that 22 new trade-restrictive measures were initiated by WTO members per month during the mid-October to mid-May review period. This constitutes a significant increase compared to the previous review six months, which saw an average of 15 measures a month, and is the highest monthly average since 2011.
During the same period, WTO members adopted 19 new measures a month on average aimed at facilitating trade, a slight increase compared to the previous period. The stockpile of trade-restrictive measures in place grew by 11 percent in the six months.
“We hope that this will not be an indication of things to come, and clearly action is needed,” said Roberto Azevêdo, director-general of the Geneva-based global trade body.
Out of the more than 2,800 trade-restrictive measures recorded by this exercise since October 2008, only 25 percent have been removed.
“In the current environment, a rise in trade restrictions is the last thing the global economy needs,” Azevêdo said. “This increase could have a further chilling effect on trade flows, with knock-on effects for economic growth and job creation.”
Global trade has become a key issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, with candidates from both political parties critical of international commerce in varying degrees, from free trade pacts to China’s policies they contend hurt U.S. competitiveness. Many business executives that have established global manufacturing and sales networks have voiced concern over the potential fallout.
The WTO said it will continue to monitor trade policy trends and developments in WTO members’ policies and provide a platform of inclusiveness and transparency for addressing challenges facing the global trading system.
Among the other key findings in the report were that WTO members initiated a higher number of trade remedy investigations during this review period, an overwhelming majority of which were antidumping measures. The overall stockpile of restrictive measures introduced grew 11 percent in the review period.
General economic support measures implemented by WTO countries also grew, with a monthly average of 14 such actions recorded for the period.
Overall, the report said world trade remained volatile in 2015, as diverging outlooks for developed and developing economies unsettled global financial markets and prompted sharp movements in commodity prices and exchange rates. The volume of world merchandise trade grew 2.8 percent last year, as trade fell sharply in the first half of the year before recovering in the second half.
World trade prospects for 2016 and beyond remain uncertain. The WTO trade forecast released in April was for merchandise trade volume growth of 2.8 percent in 2016, the same as 2015.