The Latest: WTO head warns of 'Dark Ages' without free trade


DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The Latest on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (all times local):

7:55 p.m.

The head of the World Trade Organization has applauded signs of progress between the United States and China in their trade standoff.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo pointed to comments from officials that suggested “some progress has been achieved and that there is some degree of optimism in the conversation” between Washington and Beijing.

The WTO chief has expressed optimism that the trade picture could be better this year than in 2018, when the Trump administration announced massive tariffs on Chinese and other goods and retaliatory action was taken by some key U.S. trading partners.

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Speaking Thursday to The Associated Press at the World Economic Forum, Azevedo also said that in case of a no-deal or “hard” Brexit, preferential trading conditions on about 60 percent of trade in British goods would go away, meaning that the tariff levels on them would change.

Azevedo also acknowledged a critique by Japan’s prime minister a day earlier was “fair.” Shinzo Abe said major changes were happening in world trade, and said the WTO was “behind the curve” and not keeping pace.

“The reform of WTO is precisely what we need to do to fix that,” Azevedo said.


7:15 p.m.

Shouting “anti-capitalista” and other chants, hundreds of protesters have demonstrated in Davos — insisting the elite attendees of the World Economic Forum across town were more about helping themselves than a troubled world.

Socialists, environmentalists and others waved banners and signs that read “Davos Stinks” or “Let them eat money” while braving sub-zero temperatures in central Davos.

Across town, business chiefs, academics, governmental officials and NGO leaders at the WEF were mostly holed up in a conference center.

A 20-year-old protester from Geneva, Thomas Bruchez, said the demonstrators’ message was: “We want a better world, you’re not deciding for us.”

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Thursday’s demonstration was originally planned in part to protest against President Donald Trump, who had been expected in Davos this week before cancelling his trip over the U.S. government shutdown. The protest went ahead anyway, training some anger at Brazil’s new nationalist President Jair Bolsonaro — who did attend.


7 p.m.

The head of the Hong Kong stock market says the rest of the world proved ungrateful after a massive Chinese stimulus program helped revive the global economy during the Great Recession.

China dumped 4 trillion yuan (now worth $590 billion) of stimulus on its economy a decade ago, helping lug the global economy out of a deep downturn.

But much of the stimulus money was wasted in China, winding up as bad loans or as new or expanded factories that cranked out more aluminum, steel and other products than anyone wanted to buy. So now China is looking for help putting its capital to better use.

But “the partners are not interested anymore,” said Charles Li, CEO of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited. “The partners are starting to say, ‘We don’t like you anymore. Ten years earlier, you stood up for the family, but now we want a divorce.”

Li didn’t single out culprits. But the reference seemed clear: The United States is restricting Chinese investment and has imposed taxes on $250 billion in Chinese imports.


4:35 p.m.

The Congolese surgeon who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work with survivors of sexual assaults committed during conflict is calling for a global fund for reparations.

Dr. Denis Mukwege told a World Economic Forum audience on Thursday that such a fund is needed in case a government or even the attacker cannot offer help — or apologize.

He says reparations do not always involve money. They also are a chance for healing, “for leaders to apologize for what happened … or for women to just say, ‘This is enough.'”

Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of women and children who were raped or sexually assaulted in eastern Congo, where conflict over the last two decades has killed millions of people.

He says he is not always successful in surgery and that when he has to explain that to a patient, “I tell you, it’s a torture.”


3:35 p.m.

The U.N. chief says opponents of globalism shouldn’t just be branded as “nationalists or populists or whatever,” insisting “we need to show these people that we care.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered a message of inclusion for those in “rust belts” around the world, saying that insecurity about jobs and livelihoods being lost requires more attention.

For many years, political establishments and international organizations “let these people be left behind,” he said.

His comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos were the latest effort to address a populist, nationalistic mood in many parts of the world that have cast a shadow over the multilateral, or globalist, movement in recent years.

We need to understand their “grievances” and the “root causes” of their opposition to multilateralism championed by the United Nations, Guterres said, adding that it’s “not enough to vilify those that disagree” with multilateralism.


2:10 p.m.

Irish Premier Leo Varadkar says Britain will face “enormous difficulties” if it crashes out of the European Union without a deal that could leave it unable to strike trade deals with other countries around the world.

Speaking on the sidelines at the World Economic Forum, Varadkar said Britain would not only be outside Europe’s single market in a “no deal” scenario, it would also no longer be part of the EU’s trade deals with the likes of Japan, Canada and South Korea.

And because the Irish border issue will still be “unresolved,” he said “it’ll be very difficult for them (the British) to conclude any trade deals.”

One of the arguments made by those wanting a “no deal” Brexit is that it would allow Britain to strike trade deals around the world immediately.

As a result, Varadkar urged British lawmakers to ratify the Brexit deal Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the EU as it’s a “solution on the table.”


12:20 p.m.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney says Britain’s banking system is in good shape to deal with the prospect of the country crashing out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Carney said the banks have spent the last few years building up their capital buffers. That will help them to keep lending even if the British economy shrinks by 8 percent in the months after Brexit and house prices collapse by around a third, as the bank warned in its worst-case Brexit scenario.

Carney said the banking system has about three times as much capital as it had prior to the financial crisis even after all post-Brexit losses are absorbed.

However, Carney said many logistical issues at ports and borders will not be ready in the event of a “hard Brexit” that would see tariffs imposed on British goods and other restrictions imposed on trade.

Businesses, he said, are “doing what they can but in many cases they can’t do it.”


11:30 p.m.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has warned of a growing divide between north and south in the European Union if Italy is seen as violating the budget rules that govern the euro currency.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Rutte said people in his country are asking him why the Netherlands is implementing measures to abide by budget rules when others are not.

He said the dispute over Italy’s budget is “creating distrust between north and south.”

Though the Italian government has softened its position slightly after the EU threatened it with legal action, its deficit is still higher than the EU had wanted initially to reduce Italy’s overall debt.

Poland’s premier, Mateusz Morawiecki, agreed that the EU “should apply the same standards for different member states” but said that Italy is not being treated in the same manner that France was previously. France’s relatively high deficit over the past few years was widely seen as being tolerated by the EU.


11:15 a.m.

The head of the World Trade Organization warned that the global economy would plunge into the “Dark Ages” without free trade.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo said: If “the WTO and the global trading system is out of the picture, we’re in for the Dark Ages, I guarantee you that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has disrupted the post-World War II trend toward ever-freer world trade, imposing taxes on foreign steel, aluminum and hundreds of Chinese imports.

European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom warned of “threats” to free trade. In a clear reference to Trump’s America, she said: “We have countries who are acting on their own, disregarding global rules and undermining the global trading system.”

But she said the momentum toward freer trade hasn’t stopped, noting that 11 Pacific Rim countries went ahead with a regional trade pact even after Trump withdrew from the deal in 2017 and that the EU has recently negotiated trade agreements with Japan, Canada and other countries.


10:15 a.m.

The fallout from developments in Venezuela and uncertainty over Britain’s exit from the European Union are set to be key points of discussions Thursday at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos.

Following two days when much of the debate has centered on issues related to global trade, particularly the dispute between the United States and China, and climate change, the world’s political and business elites are digesting what’s going on in Venezuela, after the U.S. recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president.

Brexit will also feature heavily, with British ministers due to address the Forum on Thursday, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is also due to appear before a panel as is World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo.

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