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Trump's election might be surprisingly useful for trade: Ex-minister

President-elect Donald Trump has raised concerns around the world with his protectionist pledges to scrap trade deals as soon as he enters the White House. However, his approach might be "surprisingly useful," a former trade minister told CNBC.

"The current situation – as unsettling as it might be for us technocrat elites – is actually the most interesting time I can remember in easily a decade," Thomas Lembong, chairman of the Indonesian investment coordinating board and former trade minister told a CNBC panel at the World Economic Forum on Thursday.

"I think it may end up being surprisingly useful that President Trump is coming in and shaking things up to such an extent.

"Even if after this we come back to the old ways, at least we had a debate, we've had the controversy, it's crazy, it's madness, but why not? Shaking up things once in a while is good."

The future of international trade has become under the spotlight since the election of Donald Trump.

Over the past week, the issue has become under renewed attention on a potential "trade war" between the U.S. and China.

One of Trump's aides said that the U.S. would win a "trade war" against China if the latter opted to retaliate against U.S. tariffs on imports.

Both countries seem to be taking opposite directions when it comes to trade, with China sending signals of more openness - as seen in President Xi Jinping's address to the WEF annual meeting on Tuesday.

François-Philippe Champagne, trade minister for Canada, agreed that maybe it is time "for a review" of how international trade has worked. Champagne said "multilateral trade has served us very well," but it is important to assess "what's in it for the people."


A container ship is guided into the Port of Oakland by an AmNav tug boat in Oakland, California.
Tim Rue | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A container ship is guided into the Port of Oakland by an AmNav tug boat in Oakland, California.

Trade ministers in Davos admitted that the outlook for international commerce in 2017 is "uncertain" but there is a willingness to look for stability.

"There's a lot of uncertainty right now but I could just as easily see that uncertainty being clarified over the coming months, Steven Ciobo, the Australian minister for trade said in Davos.

"I am cautiously optimistic," he added.

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