In his inaugural global trade-monitoring report Roberto Azevedo, director general of World Trade Organisation (WTO), warned that, despite growth predictions, 2014 was likely to be a difficult year for global trade. Global trade is expected to expand in 2014 by between 4% and 4.5%, but Mr Azevedo said in his speech in February that concerns over trade restrictive measures remain.
“We picked up a few bad habits [in 2013] which we need to shake off,” he said, referring to the WTO membership countries. According to the WTO's monitoring report, 2013 brought 407 new restrictive measures, 32% more than the 308 introduced in 2012. The new measures affect an estimated 1.3% of world merchandise imports, valued at $240bn and, as Mr Azevedo pointed out, “add to the existing stock of restrictions”.
WTO members were also found to have been less active in implementing trade facilitation agreements last year. The number of such regulations introduced in 2013, at 107, was 33% lower than in 2012. “This paints a rather unflattering picture of the ratio of trade restrictive measures to facilitation measures,” said Mr Azevedo.
There were some positive developments in 2013 however. A major breakthrough came when a trade agreement was settled by the WTO Conference in Bali in December 2013. The so-called 'Bali package' includes a number of tariff-lowering measures aiming at improving trade facilitation between developing countries and developed economies, and is the first agreement in WTO's history signed by all its members.
There were also 23 new regional trade agreements recorded in the year, accounting for nearly one-tenth of all such agreements currently in force. Moreover, a number of multilateral trade negotiations made headway in the year, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the EU, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership between China and 15 other countries.
Mr Azevedo was keen not to place too much emphasis on these agreements however, recommending instead that there should be an increase of transparency of trade and trade-related measures among WTO members. “Agreements such as these cannot be sufficient on their own," he said. "In fact, the proliferation of regulations and standards could multiply costs rather than reduce them."