GENEVA (AP) — A former Chinese diplomat took center stage Tuesday at the World Trade Organization, announcing its revised prediction for a 9.2% percent decline in world merchandise trade this year and cautioning that a further hit could await if the coronavirus continues to spread.

Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun’s presentation of the new WTO forecast symbolized a coming-of-age moment for China not yet a generation after it acceded to the trade body. It comes amid a punishing U.S. trade war against China under President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly accused the country of unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft.

WTO officials are required to serve the Geneva trade body, not their national interests. But the presentation by a former Chinese diplomat – Yi previously served as China’s ambassador to the WTO – could resonate for a U.S. administration that has been withering in its criticism of the Communist government that oversees the No. 2 world economy.

Yi announced that WTO economists have revised to a 9.2% drop in merchandise trade this year, down from their earlier prediction of a 12.9% plunge . That forecast was presented in April, when COVID-19 case counts were soaring in major economic engines like the Europe Union and the United States.

The revision follows better trade performances in June and July, notably thanks to rising demand for health care goods and electronic equipment. WTO now also predicts a 7.2% rise in trade next year, far more “pessimistic” than the April forecast for a 21.3% bounce-back. The forecasts exclude trade in services, and focus only on merchandise.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is above all a public health crisis, and preventing further suffering is the WTO’s overriding concern,” Yi said. “However, the outbreak has also disrupted the global economy in unprecedented ways.”

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