WTO chief Azevedo says trade wars can happen at any time
"Trade wars can come up at any time, and in ways that we don't expect," WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo told dpa in Geneva.
"All it takes is a member to adopt measures that another member considers to be unilateral, unwarranted and respond.
"The moment that they respond you'll begin to have this escalation."
In January, Washington announced high import tariffs on washing machines and solar power equipment to protect domestic jobs.
China, South Korea, the EU and others have reacted by formally requesting consultations with the US at the WTO.
These countries seek compensation for loss of trade on these newly taxed items.
If the countries fail to solve the spat in bilateral talks with the US, Washington may face retaliatory trade measures.
The Brazilian WTO chief said that the threat of trade wars has risen since the 2008 global economic crisis, which involved slow economic growth and high unemployment.
Under such circumstances, "the temptation to close the borders and look inward is higher," he said.
"And that kind of disposition is more conducive to a trade war. But we have not seen that, we have not seen that yet. It may come."
The 164 WTO member countries not only use the organization to negotiate treaties that make trade easier, but they also use the WTO to settle conflicts. ■