Officials scramble for last-minute deal at WTO

Officials scramble for last-minute deal at WTO

Last minute efforts by negotiators to reach a compromise on the agriculture issue at the ninth World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Meeting could be in vain, with talks reaching their final day on Friday.

India, which has been blamed for holding WTO negotiations on agriculture in a stalemate, was still engaged in tense negotiation with the US, mediated by Indonesia and WTO director general Roberto Azevedo, late on Thursday.

"A face-saving deal is a must. Nobody wants to leave Bali empty handed. But the progress remains uncertain," said a senior Indonesian official.

Speculation is rife that members would agree on eight out of 10 negotiated packages, leaving the farm subsidy issues out for further negotiation.

India's programme of stockpiling subsidized grain and rice to ensure cheap food for its people is considered to have threatened the progress of negotiations.

Trading partners fear the programme contravenes WTO rules, which limit farm subsidies, and there are concerns India could misuse the policy to export food at cheaper prices, thus distorting the market.

Any failure to revive the 12-year-old Doha round of talks would see the WTO lose credibility in the eyes of its members.

Negotiators have so far only concluded negotiations on the least-developed countries (LDCs) and development packages, with some countries only willing to accept agreements bundled with two other deals.

Presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah reiterated on Thursday that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was "still considering" calling Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a last-resort effort by the host.

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