Global trade deal seen "very close", India makes WTO sweat

Global trade deal seen "very close", India makes WTO sweat
India's Commerce Minister Anand Sharma (C) arrives at the ninth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali December 6, 2013.

NUSA DUA, Indonesia - Ministers from nearly 160 member countries of the World Trade Organisation entered a final day of negotiations on Friday with officials sounding optimistic over chances of salvaging a deal that would save the trade body from sliding into irrelevance.

"We are very close," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters at the meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. "As things stand now, the prospects are promising."

Just a day earlier, a deal that would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy by some estimates teetered on the brink of collapse.

In an organisation based on consensus among all of its members, attention focused squarely on India as the main stumbling block to the WTO's first global trade deal in two decades.

India has insisted it would not compromise on a policy of subsidising food for hundreds of millions of poor, putting it at odds with the United States and other developed countries.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, a former Brazilian trade negotiator, told delegates at the start of the last day of talks that there was more work to be done, but sounded upbeat on prospects for success.

"He told members they were now very close to something that has eluded us for many years and that the decisions over the next few hours would have great significance beyond this day," the spokesman said.

It is 12 years since the WTO launched the Doha Round, but the negotiations have yet to yield any concrete results. Diplomats have warned that failure in Bali would wreck the WTO's credibility as developed nations turn towards regional and bilateral trade arrangements.

A Bali trade deal, which is far less ambitious than the Doha Round had aimed for up until two years ago, would open the way to much wider trade reforms and enable the body to modernize its rules for the internet era.

The "all or nothing" agreement covers several areas, the largest of which is trade facilitation - a global standardisation and simplification of customs procedures that would tear down barriers to cross-border movement of goods.

Another part of the deal - and the one proving to be the most contentious - is focused on agriculture. Members seem largely in agreement over reducing export subsidies, opening borders to least developed countries access free, and quota free markets. The main obstacle to a deal are differences over the food subsidy policy.

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