Brexit woes and trade rows among risks to global economy, says Japanese PM

Brexit woes and trade rows among risks to global economy, says Japanese PM
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

China's slowing growth, Brexit woes and US-China trade disputes pose risks to the world economy, Japan's prime minister has said.

Shinzo Abe also criticised the World Trade Organisation as "behind the curve" and in need of reform to help ease trade tensions as he spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Mr Abe used his return to Davos after five years to hail the benefits of two "mega deals" in trade - on the Pacific Rim and between Japan and the European Union - at a time when populism and isolationism have elbowed in on an era of globalism.

"The world economy is gradually and moderately improving. I think without a doubt this is taking place," he said.

"Worldwide, however, there are risks. US-China trade friction is one of those risks and Japan traditionally has said tit-for-tat trade-restrictive measures are of no benefit."

Mr Abe said the WTO needs to be changed, calling for a trading system that protects intellectual property rights.

That was a veiled reference to China, which the Trump administration and others say is cheating on trade rules and stealing intellectual property from Western companies.

"Major changes are taking place and the WTO is behind the curve - it's not keeping up with pace," Mr Abe said in a brief question-and-answer session with the forum's chief.

"We have to make the WTO into a more credible existence. We need to reform it."

Singer and co-founder of RED Bono arrives for the 'Closing the Financing Gap' session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Singer and co-founder of RED Bono arrives for the "Closing the Financing Gap" session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Mr Abe's appearance and a later speech by Germany's Angela Merkel were shaping up as a one-two punch by major leaders in favour of global co-operation.

A day earlier, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo extolled their governments' renewed focus on national self-interest.

Meanwhile, several other leaders - such as those of the United States, Britain and France - decided not to travel to Davos to deal with political troubles back home, including the US government shutdown, Brexit and popular protests.

China was set to get its say, too - and possibly retort against Western complaints about its trade policies.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF, 2nd left, gestures to singer and co-founder of RED Bono, 2nd right, during the 'Closing the Financing Gap' session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF, 2nd left, gestures to singer and co-founder of RED Bono, 2nd right, during the "Closing the Financing Gap" session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Vice president Wang Qishan was set to speak on the second day of the elite Davos gathering.

Away from the Swiss slopes, efforts were looming to defuse the US-China tensions on trade.

A high-level Chinese delegation is expected to visit Washington on January 30, as the two sides seek to strike an accord to end their conflict.

However, Hong Kong's Beijing-backed chief executive said she is "quite worried" that the rules-based system that has governed global trade for decades is under threat.

Carrie Lam said any erosion of traditional rules could lead to rising political tensions.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF, participates in the 'Closing the Financing Gap' session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF, participates in the "Closing the Financing Gap" session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Worries over the future of the rules governing global trade have been stoked over the past few years, particularly since the election of US President Donald Trump.

His administration has taken umbrage against China and the two countries have imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions worth of traded goods, igniting a trade war that could seriously hinder the global economy.

Mrs Merkel, meanwhile, was to address the gathering amid growing uncertainty in Europe over Brexit after British MPs last week voted down Prime Minister Theresa May's deal with the European Union.

Since then, speculation has risen that Britain could crash out of the bloc without a deal or end up extending its date of departure from the current March 29.

PA

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