A large cross-section of World Trade Organization (WTO) members have issued a joint statement expressing concerns over rising trade tensions and risks of escalating protectionism.

Delivered to a meeting of the WTO's General Council this week, 41 members called on governments to resolve their differences through dialogue and cooperation, including through the WTO.

"We are concerned about increased trade tensions and related risks for the multilateral trading system and world trade," the group said. "We encourage WTO members to refrain from taking protectionist measures and to avoid risks of escalation."

President Donald Trump last month signed an executive order to levy tariffs on US$50bn of imports in China, Under Section 301 of the Trade Act – with an even larger list of additional goods, collectively valued at $100bn, also under consideration. China hit back with its own list of goods subject to possible retaliatory duties.

The co-sponsors of the statement, which include Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar, said a well-functioning, rules-based multilateral trading system embodied in the WTO was of "key importance for our economies as well as for global economic stability, prosperity and development".

They also noted the marked recovery in world trade last year and the WTO's encouraging positive trade forecast for 2018 and 2019.

They called for action to address major challenges facing the WTO, including overcoming difficulties in concluding negotiations and divergent positions on trade and development. They also highlighted the importance of filling all current and future vacancies on the Appellate Body without delay.

EU Ambassador to the WTO, Marc Vanheukelen, is understood to have been among many who concurred that the Appellate Body situation is nearing critical levels, with three of the seven seats now vacant.