© Reuters. Azevedo, Director-General of the WTO attends a meeting with the ACANU in Geneva

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – World Trade Organisation head Roberto Azevedo said on Friday U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments about potentially leaving the WTO were consistent with what the United States has said previously and did not reflect new concerns.

Trump said on Thursday that he could pull out of the WTO, potentially undermining one of the foundations of the modern global economy, which the United States was instrumental in creating.

“If they don’t shape up, I would withdraw from the WTO,” Trump said.

In a response on Friday, Azevedo, the WTO’s director general, said there was no reason for “panic”.

“The U.S. concerns about areas in the WTO that they would like to improve are not new. And I think what he said yesterday is consistent with what they have expressed before.”

Trump has previously called the WTO a “disaster” and a “catastrophe”.

During his election campaign he told NBC’s Meet the Press programme that if the WTO rules blocked his policies, he would renegotiate U.S. membership or pull out.

Trump’s ambassador has said the United States will not shy away from being disruptive to shake up what it sees as a complacent organisation, and has precipitated a crisis by blocking appointments of WTO appeals judges, forcing other countries to discuss potential reforms to assuage Trump.

Many diplomats say that although they dislike the U.S. tactics, they agree that the WTO needs reform, and hope that the situation can be used to make the 23-year-old trading club more efficient and effective.

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The WTO is run on the basis of “consensus”, meaning that every one of its 164 members has an effective veto and it is almost impossible to get agreement on any change to the rules.

Azevedo said many WTO members were now talking about improvements, which was a good development.

“Everyone that would like to see improvements in the WTO is very welcome to present their ideas and their suggestions to improve the organisation, sit down with the other members and get the job done,” he said.

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