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WTO Warns of Mounting “Stockpile” of Global Trade Barriers

Posted July 31, 2015

The increasing stockpile of trade-restrictive measures introduced by members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) remains a cause for concern, and continued vigilance is required, according to the latest report on trade-related developments presented last week. On the positive side, an increasing number of trade-liberalizing measures, such as tariff-cutting measures, were adopted by WTO members during the period under review, 16 October 2014 to 15 May 2015.

104 new trade-restrictive measures (excluding trade remedy measures) were put in place in the reporting period 16 October 2014 to 15 May 2015; an average of around 15 new measures per month. This monthly rate has remained relatively stable since 2012, though the overall stock of measures nevertheless continues to rise.

Of the 2,416 measures recorded since October 2008, less than 25% have been removed, leaving the stock of restrictive measures still in place at 1,828. This represents an increase of 12% compared to the last report. This remains a cause for concern and continued vigilance is required from WTO members, said by trade body’s Director General Roberto Azevêdo.

More encouragingly, WTO Members have adopted more trade-liberalizing measures (excluding trade remedy actions) than trade-restrictive measures since the end of 2013. Continuing this trend, during the period under review, WTO Members implemented 114 new trade-liberalizing measures; an average of more than 16 measures per month.

The broader international economic context supports the need for vigilance and action with regard to trade-restrictive measures. According to the WTO’s most recent forecast (14 April 2015), growth in the volume of world merchandise trade should increase from 2.8% in 2014 to 3.3% in 2015 and further to 4.0% in 2016, but remaining below historical averages.

The WTO is currently preparing for its Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December 2015. What outcomes might come from this meeting, however, remain highly doubtful, given that members are likely to miss today’s deadline to ink yet another work program for the perpetually deadlocked Doha Round negotiations which have been ongoing for the past 14 years.

Referring to the conference, Azevêdo said that the organization “should seek to make decisive progress in eliminating remaining trade-restrictive measures while also delivering new negotiated outcomes,” given the importance of a stable, predictable multilateral trading system.