WTO Chief Makes Rallying Cry for Trade as Trump Targets Cars

(Bloomberg) -- World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo said anyone who supports free trade must speak out against the increasing threats to the multilateral order.

Hours before European Union leaders visit the White House for last-ditch talks aiming to persuade President Donald Trump not to impose higher tariffs on auto imports, Azevedo called for an urgent response to prevent the “eye-for-an-eye” approach of the world’s biggest trading blocks risks becoming a “new normal.”

“The worst-case scenario for the global economy, for the consumer, for everyone on the surface of the Earth, is to have no rules, to have the law of the jungle,” Azevedo said Wednesday during a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. “Investors will pull back, the economy will lose steam and jobs will be lost -- millions of jobs will be lost.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom are heading into their talks with the U.S. president with a list of retaliatory measures on American goods worth $20 billion should the U.S. impose car tariffs. The Washington Post reported earlier that many of Trump’s senior economic advisers expect him to impose a 25 percent tariff on about $200 billion of auto imports this year.

The Stoxx 600 Automobiles & Parts Index fell by 2.9 percent at 5:58 p.m. in Brussels ahead of the meeting.

The Long Haul

The European response “would be more general, like farming goods, machines, high-technology products and others,” Malmstrom said in an interview with Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

“If we continue down this road, I am sure we will see a slowdown of the economy, a loss in purchasing power in every country,” Azevedo said.

The commission, which manages trade relations on behalf of all 28 nations in the EU, plans to signal the bloc’s willingness to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. on manufactured goods, or a so-called plurilateral sectoral agreement between all major car exporters which would cut or eliminate tariffs on automobiles globally.

Trump suggested the U.S. and the EU should eliminate all tariffs, barriers and subsidies.

“I have an idea for them. Both the U.S. and the E.U. drop all Tariffs, Barriers and Subsidies!” Trump said in a Tuesday night tweet. “That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade! Hope they do it, we are ready - but they won’t!”

Analysts caution that worse may be yet to come and Trump’s announcement of plans to provide $12 billion in aid for U.S. farmers suffering from tariffs suggest the president is preparing for the long haul.

“It’s hard to tell how the meeting will go as both men are blunt,” said Inderjeet Parmar, head of the international politics department at City University in London. “This might mean an agreement that means the reduction or elimination of tariffs. But Trump is demanding complete deregulation and that the EU cannot accept.”

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