LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The hostility toward trade agreements witnessed in the United States and other countries is misplaced and protectionist measures can hurt the poorest most, the head of the world's leading trade body said Monday.
World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo said the introduction of new technology is a much bigger threat to jobs than trade agreements.
"Adopting protectionist measures would only decrease the possibilities for the poor people more than anybody else, and that's just the wrong response to the situation today," Azevedo said.
Azevedo declined to comment specifically on the U.S. presidential candidates. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton opposes an Asia-Pacific trade agreement, and her Republican rival Donald Trump vows to tear up existing trade deals.
Azevedo said: "The major question is ... is a restrictive trade policy the answer to the kind of sentiments that you see in the electorate today, and I don't think it would be."
The Geneva-based WTO oversees and regulates international trade agreements.
Azevedo, speaking on the sidelines of a technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, said the WTO will await the outcome of Britain's negotiations to withdraw from the 28-nation European Union before assessing the new terms of that relationship.
Any renegotiated trade terms have to go to the WTO where consensus is needed for the new arrangement's approval. That could give economic rivals a chance to delay or scupper any agreement.
"It is not simple, so it's not easy to tell how long it is going to take," Azevedo said of the WTO's future role in Britain's EU exit. "It can be rather straightforward ... or it could be complicated."