WTO head issues US election anti-trade warning

If Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton impose anti-trade policies, the US and global economy would face a “catastrophe”, putting the president out of office four years later, the head of the World Trade Organisation has warned.

In his strongest intervention yet in the US presidential race, Roberto Azevedo said that the candidates should be wary of promising to pull down free trade agreements and slap tariffs on cheap imports from overseas.

“That would be the wrong policy,” he said. “You begin with the wrong diagnosis and then prescribe the wrong medicine.

“If a country like the United States disconnects from the global economy it’s a disaster. It’s a catastrophe for the economy. So that is not going to happen.

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“Many of those policies that are being proposed [by the candidates]; if implemented, actually you’re out of power in four years because they will only hurt the economy.”

Mr Azevedo was just one of the leading policymakers and economists interviewed for an extended Sky News report about the future of the US economy and its leadership of the world.

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With both Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump pledging to impose more controls on trade, and with Mr Trump in particular threatening to pull out of key international institutions that monitor the global economy, fears are growing that the US may disavow its prominent role at the centre of the world’s financial system, potentially laying the ground for instability in the coming years.

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Lord King, the former Bank of England Governor, said: “If the US does not give leadership, whether it is to the G7 or the G20 then very little happens.

“If Mr Trump were to be elected, we really have no idea what he would do, but it is clearly unlikely to be a co-operative movement in the world economy.

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“I think there is a lot of uncertainty as to what the US will do and it matters at this juncture.”

Maurice Obstfeld, chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, said: “If you can swing [the election] by taking a position against trade, you do that.

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“And that’s what both of our major candidates in the US have done.

“I think leaders to some degree feel an obligation to carry through on those promises. And if you take the global trading system apart, it’s very hard to put it back together again.”

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Barry Eichengreen, one of the world’s most renowned economic historians, said: “I think this is a decisive election for the United States and it will matter importantly for the world economy and the global financial system as well.”

Referring to the level of economic debate during the election, prominent Harvard economist Ken Rogoff said: “I am certainly very concerned about what this shows for the future in the United States at least: five years of retrenching, being less confident about its role in the world, less confident about trade.

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“I think whatever we angst in the United States about Brexit will be nothing compared to what you Brits will angst about if we elect Trump.”

Swedish finance minister Magdalena Andersson said: “With Trump as President I am afraid that we will see a world that is not as open as it has been… but also Hillary Clinton has been sceptical to some of the trade agreements.”

:: Watch a special report from Ed Conway, Reversal Of Fortune, at 11.30 this morning, and at 2.30pm and 9.30pm.

:: There will also be continuing coverage from the campaign trail throughout the day on Sky News. Plus every night this week, we will have a special programme – America Decides – from midnight with Jeremy Thompson.

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