WTO warns of rising trade barriers ahead of G20 summit

New trade barriers imposed by G20 economies threaten to crimp the global economy, the World Trade Organization said in a report published on Monday.

G20 nations implemented 20 new trade-restrictive measures between mid-October and mid-May, including higher tariffs, import bans and new customs procedures for exports. Those measures affect goods worth $335.9bn, the second-highest figure recorded since the WTO began tracking it in May 2012. The WTO noted that the size of restrictive trade policies has spiked in the last two reporting periods, with the prior period representing the highest on record at $480.9bn.

The same economies also introduced 29 measures aimed at facilitating trade, such as eliminating or reducing tariffs and adding export duties, covering an estimated $397.2bn.

Roberto Azevêdo, director-general of the WTO, called on G20 nations to ease trade tensions, saying the report’s findings “should be of serious concern for the whole international community”.

“The stable trend that we saw for almost a decade since the financial crisis has been replaced with a steep increase in the size and scale of trade-restrictive measures over the last year. This will have consequences in increased uncertainty, lower investment and weaker trade growth,” Mr Azevêdo added.

The report arrived days before the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, where President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are scheduled to meet amid a long-running trade dispute. Mr Trump said he will have an “extended meeting” with Mr Xi during the gathering of G20 leaders, which is set to begin on Friday.

Failure to reach a trade truce could result in additional tariffs. The US president had threatened to impose levies on about $300bn of Chinese goods that have so far been spared from the trade war if Mr Xi skipped the G20 meeting.

The WTO report said trade-restrictive measures currently under consideration add to “the challenges faced by governments, businesses and consumers in the current global economic environment”.

Last month, the US raised existing tariffs on $200bn of imports from China, with officials accusing Beijing of “reneging” on promises made during the talks. China retaliated by increasing tariffs on about $60bn in American goods.

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