Throughout a seven-month period that includes the first five months of 2017, countries have been focused on lowering trade restrictions, tariffs and regulations, according to the WTO's Monitoring Report released Monday.
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“The report shows an encouraging decrease in the rate of new trade-restrictive measures put in place,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said in a statement in the release.
From the period between October 2016 through May 2017, WTO members initiated 74 new trade-restrictive measures – like tariffs – which, at about 11 new measures per month, is the lowest monthly average since the financial crisis. Additionally, the newest readings show a sharp decline from the period beginning October 2015 to October 2016, when about 15 new measures per month were enacted by member countries.
The report also shows slowed activity among members when it comes to implementing measures to facilitate trade – for example, eliminating tariffs or simplifying customs procedures. Between October 2016 and May 2017, 80 trade enabling measures were put in place by member countries, which cost a total of $183 billion. In comparison, countries only spent $49 billion on trade-restrictive actions.
The World Trade Organization has 164 members and observer countries, according to the organization’s website.
In the United States, trade has remained at the forefront of the economic agenda as President Donald Trump seeks to ameliorate the nation’s trade imbalances with global partners. Some of the president’s proposed economic policies have been viewed as potential violations of WTO rules, including imposing tariffs on countries that are deemed to have unfair practices. The Trump administration also caused some concern when it announced its intentions to renegotiate NAFTA earlier this year—discussions that are set to begin in less than a month.
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Much like warnings from the IMF—which pointedly called some of the United States’ proposed policies protectionist—the WTO cautioned members against withdrawing from the global economy.
“I urge WTO members to continue showing moderation and restraint in their use of trade restrictions, despite the persistent uncertainty facing the global economy,” the WTO director-general said in the report.