WirtschaftsWoche Exclusive

WTO Head Seeks Help from Merkel

Roberto Azevêdo, head of the WTO. Source: AP

The victory march of protectionism across the globe troubles few people as much as it does the head of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevêdo. Now, the Brazilian at the top of the WTO is counting on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to halt the tide.

“At the G20 meeting in Hamburg I expect serious talk about how to improve the regulatory system,” Mr. Azevêdo told WirtschaftsWoche, a Handelsblatt sister publication. “Germany has to start a conversation about trade policy and the multilateral system,” he said, adding that G20 members hold differing views on the importance and impact of trade.

Mr. Azevêdo also expects support for his goal of an ambitious restructuring of the organization. Given that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a consensus among the 164 members around the world, trade agreements should be designed in a more flexible manner.

“A WTO comprised of different speeds is useful,” Mr. Azevêdo said. “In the future, the members themselves will decide how much and how fast they implement parts of one particular trade agreement.”

Germany will host the governments and central bankers of the 20 leading economies, the group of 20, in early July in Hamburg.

The German chancellor has emphasized the importance of free trade on several occasions, in what is seen as a thinly veiled warning to US President Donald Trump. At a recent Berlin business meeting in preparation of the G20 get-together, Ms. Merkel said that protectionist measures might result in short-term benefits. But “in the mid and long term their own ability to innovate is weakened, because new ideas and developments flourish best in an environment of freedom and openness,” she said in early May.

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