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WTO pact in doubt after Latin America objections

07 december 2013, 11:28
0
©AFP
©AFP
Negotiations on a global trade deal teetered on the brink of collapse Saturday as Latin American countries objected to the removal of a reference to the US embargo on Cuba, AFP reports according to the WTO.

New World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo of Brazil is pushing commerce ministers to agree on a set of measures at a conference on the Indonesian island of Bali.

He has said success in Bali was vital to ensuring the WTO's credibility as an effective multilateral body at a time when alternative regional trade alliances threatened its relevance.

Hopes were raised late Friday as it appeared agreement was near on a text that includes commitments to facilitate trade by simplifying customs procedures.

But Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua dashed those hopes as marathon negotiations dragged into the early hours of Saturday, when they rejected the text.

"We need to continue our consultations and find a way to overcome this problem," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters.

The four countries "were unhappy with the removal of the reference to the embargo, it was a very political statement, which expressed certain ideological elements," Rockwell said.

The content of that removed clause was not immediately clear.

The WTO later said it was suspending talks for several hours, to resume at 0200 GMT (10am local time) on Saturday.

The package under consideration is relatively modest compared to the WTO's broad vision of tearing down trade barriers around the world.

But it would nevertheless mark the first global deal struck by the body since its 1995 founding, and some economists have said it would give a $1 trillion jolt to the world economy.

The meeting opened Tuesday amid stark warnings from ministers that the Geneva-based WTO's credibility as the arbiter of global trade negotiations would be severely wounded if it could not deliver on even the limited Bali deal.

Initial drama surrounding the package focused on a divide between India and a number of trading nations including the United States.

India -- which aims to stockpile and subsidise grain for its millions of poor -- had demanded that such measures be granted indefinite exemption from any WTO challenge.

But critics said India's grain policy violated WTO rules on subsidies and expressed fear the grain could enter markets, skewing world prices.

Compromise wording appeared to leave the exemption period open-ended while committing nations to ensuring stockpiles would not affect the markets of other countries.

Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma welcomed the revision as a "historic decision".

Azevedo has framed a successful deal as a possible springboard for reviving the WTO's larger agenda of freeing up trade through the Doha Round of talks launched in Qatar in 2001.

Those talks aim to slash trade barriers and establish globally binding rules fair to both rich and poor countries.

But protectionist disputes among the WTO's 159 members have foiled agreement.

The Bali package involves a commitment to limit agricultural subsidies, simplify customs procedures to facilitate trade, and policies to aid least-developed countries.

Azevedo has said that without the shot in the arm that such an agreement would bring, the WTO risks being eclipsed by alternative regional pacts emerging between major trading nations.

These include the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) spearheaded by Washington. TPP negotiators will meet in Singapore this weekend as they work to hammer out a deal.

Azevedo, who took over in September, said such pacts cannot protect the interests of the developing world's masses of poor -- a key WTO mission.


By Dan Martin

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