Geneva trade official backs WTO, says it serves US interests

GENEVA — The director of a key multilateral trade agency said Wednesday that she is worried about efforts to "exaggerate" the shortcomings of the World Trade Organization and insisted the trade body "serves the U.S.'s interests."

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, International Trade Centre Executive Director Arancha Gonzalez stopped short of directly criticizing President Donald Trump, who has had harsh words for the World Trade Organization. The center is an agency of the WTO and the United Nations.

But Gonzalez disagreed with Trump's bid to work around the multilateral system championed by the WTO by making bilateral deals with individual countries.

"I'm ruthless with those that say that we have to throw away the multilateral trading system," she said at the U.N. compound in Geneva. "I worry a lot about the World Trade Organization, and I worry because I see a tendency today to exaggerate its (faults) and ignore its successes — and I think this is not good."

Gonzalez pointed to the fading of the longtime consensus that international trade, by fostering competition, could be a "win-win" for countries.

Now, she said, "parts of the world" have the view "that international trade is win-lose at best, if not lose-lose, and this is a fundamental change."

Trump has said that the WTO is unfair to the United States, an idea Gonzalez sought to debunk.

"My very clear belief is that the WTO serves the U.S. It serves the US interests," Gonzalez said. "Take a look at exporters of soya bean in the U.S.: They have increased exports to China since China became a member of the WTO by more than 20 percent." China joined in 2001.

Amid a yawing U.S. trade deficit with China, Trump has led efforts to slap penalties on $150 billion worth of imports from China — creating fears of a trade war among investors and wild swoons in stock markets. China has responded with a decision to tax $50 billion in U.S. products like soybeans and small aircraft.

The two countries — the world's two biggest economies — have taken action at the WTO to try to resolve their differences.

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