UN chief says global tensions threaten international trade

AFP , Wednesday 12 Jun 2024

The international trading system is on the brink of fragmenting amid rising geopolitical tensions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday, as he cautioned the world against splitting into rival blocs.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting at the Un
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters. AP


"The international trading system is challenged on all sides; teetering on the verge of fragmentation," Guterres said at a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the UN Trade and Development agency (UNCTAD).

"Geopolitical tensions are rising; inequalities are growing; the climate crisis is hitting many developing countries hard," he said at the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva.

"New and protracted conflicts are having a ripple effect across the global economy," he added.

"Trade has become a double-edged sword: a source of both prosperity and inequality; interconnection and dependence; economic innovation and environmental degradation."

The World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund have been warning for months against geo-economic fragmentation, in which countries favour trade within their region or specified trading bloc rather than at a global scale.

IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva warned in April last year that countries had to do more to the avert the costly consequences of global trade fragmentation and help to head off a "second Cold War".

And since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has repeatedly warned of the risks of the world economy fracturing.

Trade barriers going up

"Multilateral cooperation is weakened and the forces of fragmentation grow stronger," Guterres warned.

"New trade barriers introduced annually have nearly tripled since 2019 -- many driven by geopolitical rivalry, with no concern for their impact on developing countries.

"The world cannot afford splits into rival blocs.

"To ensure peace and security, we need one global market and one global economy, in which there is no place for poverty and hunger."

UNCTAD was founded in the early 1960s amid growing concern over the place of developing countries in international trade.

It strives to help developing countries benefit from the global economy more fairly and effectively by providing data and analysis and offering technical assistance on issues surrounding trade and development.

Based in Geneva, it now has 195 member states.

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