WTO issues warning over restrictive trade measures

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The World Trade Organization wants its member states to do everything they can to reverse the trend for protectionism.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has issued a warning that continuing to impose restrictive trade measures could damage the world economy.

It came after the body's report discovered that WTO members applied 137 new trade-restrictive measures - including tariffs, customs procedures and quantitative restrictions - in the year ending October 2018.

This was up from 108 in the previous 12-month period and the coverage of $588 billion amounted to a seven-fold increase compared to last year.

The WTO warned that the continuation of this trend could be threatening for nations across the globe.

Director-general Roberto Azevedo said in a statement: "This proliferation of trade restrictive measures and the uncertainty created by such actions could place economic recovery in jeopardy. Further escalation would carry potentially large risks for global trade, with knock-on effects for economic growth, jobs and consumer prices around the world."

The US has been one of the biggest advocates of protectionist tariffs this year, having announced three rounds of levies on imports from China since April alone. China has also retaliated in a similar fashion, resulting in a so-called tit-for-tat trade war.

In September, the WTO said it expects world merchandise trade growth to slow to 3.9 per cent in 2018 and 3.7 per cent in 2019, far below the 4.7 per cent seen in 2017.

Mr Azevedo called upon all member states to do everything they can to "de-escalate" the current situation.

Meanwhile, the recent G20 meeting in Argentina resulted in a joint statement that failed to mention the risk of protectionism for the first time.

An anti-protectionist agenda has typically always featured in G20 pledges since the start-up of the organisation ten years ago and some analysts fear that a failure to reiterate this was a bad sign for global commerce.

Senior fellow at think tank the Peterson Institute for International Economics Chad Bown told the Financial Times he is concerned this could lead other nations to take the US as a role model and apply their own protectionist agenda.