WTO boss stands up for global trade against populist tide

Roberto Azavedo, director general of the World Trade Organization
Updated 13 February 2018
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WTO boss stands up for global trade against populist tide

DUBAI: Roberto Azavedo, director general of the World Trade Organization, mounted a staunch defense of his organization, which has come under attack from rising anti-globalist and populist sentiment in the US and Britain.

“The world does not have a future if the WTO does not have a future. It is the platform on which all global trading agreements are made,” he told a session on “the outlook for trade in a hyper-connected world” at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

The WTO, the 164-member organization which oversees trade issues and tries to arbitrate in disputes, has come under pressure from the anti-global philosophies of the Trump administration in the US, and from the decision of the UK to withdraw from the European Union — “Brexit”.

President Trump has pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatened to withdraw from the North America Free Trade Association (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.

On NAFTA, Azavedo said: “I think it will change. There are three parties to an agreement that has been in place for 20 years, and that will require updating. What one partner sees as progress another sees as backtracking.”

He agreed that withdrawal from NAFTA would be a “job killer” in the US and would lead to higher prices.

Trump has complained that the WTO machinery is too slow and that the organization is not modern enough. “We are not slow. We are actually very fast compared with other international adjudicating bodies,” Azavedo said.

“In negotiations, we are 164 members and they have to agree. So that takes time. It would be good to be more flexible and nimble in negotiations,” he added.

On Brexit, he said the current standoff between the UK and the EU showed the need for an organization such as the WTO. “Imagine Brexit without the WTO. What would happen? Without an agreement it would be a no man’s land, completely chaotic and unpredictable.”

Azavedo said there was a large group of people in the world who feel they’ve been left out of the modern world, that their governments are doing nothing for them, and that globalization is not for them.

But he denied that globalization was responsible for the loss of jobs in traditional sectors, claiming that 80 percent of jobs lost in the world were because of new technology, not because of globalization.

“This will only accelerate. For example, when automated vehicles really come — and that’s a when rather than an if — millions of truck drivers will be out of a job, as will all the service staff — petrol stations, roadside motels — who service them.”

On big trends in trade, he said that the logistics industry was going through a change that would have big repercussions. “Fintech and Blockchain is going to blow up logistics. We are moving from the era of the container to the era of the small package.”


Turkish central bank raises rates sharply to prop up lira

Updated 10 min 51 sec ago
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Turkish central bank raises rates sharply to prop up lira

  • Turkey's central bank announces a sharp hike in interest rates to boost the embattled lira
  • The bank said after an emergency meeting of its monetary policy committee it was raising the late liquidity window (LLW) lending rate from 13.5 percent to 16.5 percent

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing a potentially severe crisis just a month ahead of elections over the sharp depreciation of the lira which risks buffeting his campaign and even influencing voters.
In an indication of the severity of the situation, the central bank hiked one of its key interest rates 300 basis points (bps) after an emergency meeting on Wednesday, after inaction for days amid Erdogan’s opposition to rate rises.
Erdogan has always painted himself as a champion of the Turkish economy, pointing to how growth and investment have expanded under his rule after the misery of Turkey’s 2000-2001 financial crisis.
But the lira’s depreciation by nearly 19 percent against the US dollar since the snap polls were called on April 18 may signal the economy could be a burden, rather than a boost, for Erdogan.
The Turkish strongman, a doughty campaigner and so far undefeated at the ballot box in any poll, has been strangely reticent in this campaign although his team emphasises his rallies will get fully under way on Saturday.
And when he speaks to the crowds in town squares nationwide, Erdogan will have to now confront people’s fears that the external value of the money in their pocket is crumbling.
“For Turks, a weak currency translates into a weak economy, so it’s difficult to see how this will not hurt Erdogan and the AKP (ruling party) even though their voter base is fairly loyal,” said Atilla Yesilada, country adviser at Global Source Partners in Istanbul, said.
Although the country was the fastest growing in the G20 in 2017, recording 7.4 percent growth, concerns remain over the economy overheating, the widening current account deficit and double-digit inflation. Inflation is currently at 10.85 percent.
Erdogan himself has spooked the markets by saying he plans a greater say in monetary policy — despite the nominal independence of the central bank — after the polls.
The central bank move to raise the late liquidity window (LLW) lending rate from 13.5 percent to 16.5 percent prompted a sharp rally in the value of the lira.
Even though the June 24 polls come at a time of strains with the West and the Turkish army is fresh from a successful operation inside Syria, pollsters’ surveys show the economy is the issue of most concern to Turks.
In polling done earlier this month by Ankara-based MAK Consultancy, 45 percent of 5,400 respondents told researchers the country’s most significant issue was the economy.
Another survey last month by Gezici pollster found 48.6 percent said economic woes were Turkey’s biggest issue.
And Turks’ faith in their economy is falling: the consumer confidence index dropped by 2.8 percentage points in May to 69.9 from 71.9 in April, according to the Turkish statistics office on Wednesday.
“Globally, it is shown that the economic performance has an immediate impact on voting behavior. Hence, the sizeable economic costs may have an impact on voting behavior,” Selva Demiralp, associate professor of economics at Koc University in Istanbul, told AFP.
She warned it was “hard to predict how the economy will evolve in the near future.”
Yesilada added: “If this exchange rate shock translates into weaker economic performance they will lose some more votes and the spectre of AKP losing power could become a reality in a fair election.”
Analysts have long said Erdogan’s administration has been split between pro-market pragmatists like Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, a former Merrill Lynch strategist, and advisers known for outlandish statements such as Yigit Bulut.
The central bank’s decision ended days of suspense on the markets over whether it would raise rates after Erdogan called for lower rates to boost growth.
“It’s high time to restore monetary policy credibility and regain investor confidence,” Simsek said on Twitter after the bank’s move.
“The Central Bank governor and members of the monetary policy committee have my full backing in doing what’s necessary to stem the slide in lira and achieve price stability,” he added.
Erdogan has often blamed outsiders for economic problems in Turkey, railing against unnamed actors trying to wage “economic terror” against the country.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag on Wednesday said voters were aware of the games being played.
“They are deluded if they think they can change the outcome of the election by playing with the dollar,” Bozdag said.