The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, continues to divide Europeans and a decision is not expected before 2016. Robert Azevêdo, director general of the World Trade Organization, said the advantages of free trade outweigh the problems. In an interview with German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche, he called for involvement of the WTO in negotiations, explained why transparency can be an obstacle and defended the Doha development round.
Recently, a quarter-million people demonstrated in Berlin against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Are you concerned Germany views free trade with so much suspicion?
Mr. Azevêdo: Germans ought to be concerned that they are the ones who are so suspicious of free trade. Germany, in particular, benefits greatly from international trade. If the rest of the world closed its borders to German exports, it would greatly impair industry, employment and the entire level of prosperity. Try as I might, I can’t imagine a world in which Germany is not a great trading nation.
Can you relate at all to reservations about free trade?
In a truly open economy, the advantages of free trade always add up to being greater than the disadvantages.
The Doha negotiations for liberalizing world trade have dragged on since 2001. Do bilateral projects such as TTIP, or the recent agreement between the U.S. and Pacific countries, block progress at the WTO?
The problem is not that negotiations take place outside the WTO, but that they don’t also occur within the WTO. The usefulness of a common WTO agreement is much greater than if it is only individual, like-minded countries coming together.
In December, a round of ministerial level discussions will take place at the WTO for the first time in two years. Wouldn’t it be more honest to give the Doha Development Round a decent burial because of its lack of progress?
I believe there is a consensus that the issues of the Doha Round should remain on the table. WTO member states must engage in serious discussion about how these issues can be worked out. For example, everyone is disturbed by the distortions created by agricultural subsidies, but each party proposes a different solution. The red lines don’t overlap.
One criticism of the TTIP is a lack of transparency. Do you feel a similar pressure on the WTO to grant more public access to negotiations?
No. We try to be as transparent as possible, but individual governments decide how much they reveal their positions to their citizens. Sometimes transparency helps create more support among citizens, but during tough negotiations, transparency can be an obstacle.