World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo said on Thursday he had no indication that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump wanted to withdraw the United States from the global trading body.
"I think that at this point in time what we have to do is be ready for a conversation," Azevedo told reporters, adding that he was convinced the United States could be a very important partner in reviving global trade growth.
Trump suggested during his election campaign that he could pull the United States out of the WTO if its rules stopped him renegotiating U.S. terms of trade to his satisfaction.
"I haven't had any indication from anybody that that would be the case," said Azevedo, who added that he had not yet talked to Trump but was ready to do so.
If the United States were to pull out of regional trade deals, the WTO would continue doing what it does, he said.
Nor would free trade necessarily be damaged if the United States withdrew from existing or new regional trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Azevedo said, since much depended on what might be put in their place, and regional trade arrangements often failed or were renegotiated.
"Trade is not for amateurs. Trade is tough," he said. "So we should not prejudge and jump to conclusions whenever any initiative is launched."
Trump has said he plans to kill the TPP, an ambitious Asia-Pacific trade pact, on his first day in office, although he appears to be treading more softly in other policy areas after months of combative campaign rhetoric.
Azevedo said every country had concerns about particular aspects of trade policies and trade deals but he would wait for Trump's team to announce its strategy before evaluating it.
"I haven't heard, at this point in time, anybody say trade is bad for the United States."
Trade liberalization has long been a target of anti-globalization protests and is often blamed in the United States for jobs and investment moving to Mexico or China.
Azevedo said trade is beneficial overall, and although it can be disruptive, it was wrong to blame it for widespread unemployment, with 8 out of 10 job losses in advanced economies due to domestic-led drives for innovation, automation and productivity.
"If you don't have the right diagnosis you don't have the right medicine. If the medicine is simply protectionism the outcome will be that you will harm the patient," he said, adding that protectionism would hit poorer sections of the population hardest.
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