World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo on Saturday urged global financial policymakers to strengthen cooperation through the WTO to ease trade tensions among major economies.
"Global cooperation will be essential in easing these tensions and safeguarding the strong growth that we are seeing today," Azevedo said in a statement to a meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s policy setting committee.
"The WTO, which was created as a forum for members to hold each other to account, will play its proper role in this process," Azevedo said at the semi-annual International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) meeting.
"It can be argued that without the WTO, a wave of protectionist measures would have been stirred up by the 2008 crisis, significantly worsening the economic effects of that downturn," he said.
The WTO chief warned that "a breakdown" in trade relations among major economies could "derail the recovery that we have seen in recent years."
"In an interconnected economy, the effects would likely be globalised, reaching far beyond those countries who are directly involved. In this scenario poor countries would stand to lose the most," he argued.
"I urge ministers to continue strengthening cooperation on global trade issues through the WTO. This will be essential to prevent current tensions from escalating, and to support growth, development and job creation around the world," Azevedo said.
The IMFC meeting was a part of the ongoing spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. It comes after the Trump administration recently announced additional tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and threatened to impose broad tariffs against Chinese imports.
These unilateral protectionist measures have sparked widespread criticism and provoked threats of retaliation from major trading partners, raising the prospect of escalating global trade conflicts that threaten the global recovery.