The world needs to reinforce an international rules-based order to avoid a situation where "the big fish eat the little fish," according to Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steven Ciobo.
Speaking to CNBC at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the minister recognized that there are some ongoing questions about the efficacy of the international trade regime, but he emphasized it should be strengthened.
"Fundamentally, there are some international norms that need to be, in many respects, reinforced," he said.
Of late, the Trump administration has been focused on eliminating trade deficits through its own domestic actions rather than through international mechanisms. In fact, there have been reports that the U.S. is preparing $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports.
But no matter what the United States opts to do on trade, Ciobo said his focus will be on "working with all countries to make sure that we can reinforce those structures and those vehicles like the [World Trade Organization] which are responsible for policing the conduct of countries around the world."
Without a rules-based order — like that established by WTO rules — the world will see "the big countries rolling over the small countries," he said.
Ciobo emphasized he didn't believe the global trade order was currently perfect, but he said that countries are nevertheless seeking to "open up opportunities for trade, for investment." He cited the recently signed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — a landmark trade agreement — as an example of that march forward on trade liberalization.
Earlier this week, Ciobo warned a group at Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club that there would be "anarchy" without the WTO's rules.