AP Moeller-Maersk chief warns on global trade

AP Moeller-Maersk, the Danish conglomerate that owns the world’s largest container shipping company, is voicing concern as a potential shift in US policy threatens to reduce global trade.

While Maersk assumes no matter how the US presidential election ends, it probably “won’t have an effect on the contracts we have and the employment exposure we have in the US,” Trond Westlie, its chief financial officer, said any steps in a more protectionist direction would clearly hurt global economic growth.

“In general, trade barriers weaken global growth,” Mr Westlie said in an interview.

“Low trade barriers not only help trade growth, but also economic growth,” he said. 

With real-estate- magnate-turned-politician Donald Trump blaming China and Mexico for American job losses, the tone in the US presidential race is more anti-trade than it’s been in decades.

Democratic party nominee Hillary Clinton is also toughening her stance on globalisation, and has criticised the Trans-Pacific Partnership for failing to do enough to support American jobs.

Mr Trump has gone so far as to call the pact a “disaster” for the US. Mr Westlie declined to comment on either candidate or on any specific elements in their proposals as they vie for the presidency.

But the government in Maersk’s home country of Denmark has been less restrained in voicing its concerns. Foreign minister Kristian Jensen says he’s “worried about what Trump has said”.

There are two things “in particular” that are grounds for unease, according to Mr Jensen. 

“His anti-trade rhetoric” is one, while “the second issue is his security and defense policy, where he’s questioning NATO’s Article 5,” the minister said in an interview.

The World Bank has identified trade as a key means to fight poverty. But since the global financial crisis, cross-border commerce has slowed, and in a report this year, the World Trade Organisation estimated rade grew less than 3% for a fifth consecutive year.

It cited the “threat of creeping protectionism as many governments continue to apply trade restrictions,” in an April 7 report.

Maersk transports about 15% of the manufactured goods that are sent across the globe each year, making it the world’s biggest container shipping line. 

“Trade barriers should be reduced as much as possible,” Mr Westlie said.


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