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World trade body warns US-China tensions could dent business

Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, director general of the World Trade Organization, WTO, speaks during a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, April 12, 2018. | Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP

GENEVA — The World Trade Organization predicts continued trade growth this year, though it warned Thursday that tensions and retaliatory measures, notably between the U.S. and China, could compromise those gains.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo laid out the trade body’s predictions at a news conference amid concerns about a trade war over President Donald Trump’s planned tariffs on Chinese and other goods and Beijing’s retaliation.

As it stands, the forecast is for 4.4 percent growth in merchandise trade volumes in 2018, easing to 4 percent next year. That’s down from 4.7 percent in 2017.

The WTO says there are “broadly positive signs” in world trade but notes they face headwinds from “a rising tide of anti-trade sentiment and the increased willingness of governments to employ restrictive trade measures.”

Azevedo told reporters at the WTO headquarters in Geneva that the forecast “reflects the stronger economic growth that we have been seeing in both developed and developing countries, and which is forecast to continue.”

“But let me be clear: these forecasts do not — and I repeat, they do not — factor-in the possibility of a dramatic escalation of trade restrictions.”