Washington (AFP) – In another in the growing chorus of warnings against a rise in protectionism, the head of the OECD said Wednesday governments should defend free trade by making their economies more, not less, inclusive.
“It is time to move from playing defense on trade to playing offense,” Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the 35-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said in an address.
His remarks delivered in Minnesota came as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank prepare to kick off their semi-annual meetings in Washington this week, where defending open trade and multilateral cooperation feature as key themes.
With anti-free trade views on display in France’s presidential elections, Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union, and President Donald Trump’s populist vows to erect retaliatory trade barriers, officials at major international financial institutions have expressed increasing dismay at rising protectionism.
Despite improving world economic growth, and the gains won through globalization and trade, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde last week warned of a “sword of protectionism” looming over the global economy.
In remarks delivered at the Economic Club of Minnesota, where he accepted an award for championing trade integration, Gurria acknowledged that many still face hardship in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.
“Globalisation is not working well for everyone. We must do more to deliver greater wellbeing,” he said.
He called for more training in skills, job promotion and infrastructure investments to help economies cope with some of the adjustments brought by free trade.
But Gurria he warned that imposing tariffs would be “a shot in the foot.”
“It will put your small and medium-sized business out of business and encourage large businesses to send more jobs overseas,” Gurria said.
“We must not back away from what we know is right – a free, fair, open, rules based, inclusive trading system that works better for more people.”