Ministers begin 'now or never' talks on trade deal

Nusa Dua (Indonesia), Dec 3 : Trade ministers from around the world Tuesday opened talks to finalise a package of agreements covering agriculture, development and trade facilitation in a bid to pave the way for future completion of the Doha Round.

"Failure is not an option," host Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told delegates as he opened the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial summit on the resort island of Bali.

"I fear that should we let this opportunity slip, it is developing countries that will lose out the most."

The talks were aimed at breaking the impasses over global trade liberalisation. They would either produce a deal that could boost the global economy by $1 trillion or spell the end of the WTO's relevance as a forum for negotiations.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo asked trade chiefs of 159 member-nations to reach a modest agreement on key trade issues, saying "It is now or never".

"We cannot put this off for another day," he told ministers shortly after the four-day meeting opened.

Delegates at the talks working toward achieving the so-called Bali Package face their toughest test in the deliberation of proposal by the G33 grouping that the WTO revise its agriculture agreement to effectively allow developing countries to exceed their subsidy output of 10 percent of national output.

Since a revision on the agreement would take years, the G33 has called for an interim solution, also known as the peace clause, to allow it to exceed the threshold without being challenged at the WTO.

The most vocal proponent of this is India, whose food subsidy programme would breach the threshold after its roll-out. Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said the programme is "sacrosanct and non-negotiable".

Sharma said ensuring a positive outcome from the ministerial meeting was the "collective responsibility" of all members of the multilateral organisation.

Sharma said ensuring food security for large populations was a common concern shared by developing countries as WTO rules in the area of agricultural support had become dated and did not take into account rising prices.

The WTO launched the "Doha Round" of talks in Qatar in 2001, seeking to overhaul the world trading system by setting a global framework of rules and pulling down barriers.

But protectionist disputes between rich and poor countries -- as well as the WTO's insistence that any accord be unanimous -- has made a deal elusive.

"Here in Bali, we have an opportunity to work together to achieve what we missed in Geneva. We have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that we are ready to reinvigorate global trade. And we also have an opportunity to lay the path to make global trade easier, more fair and more inclusive for all," Yudhoyono said.

"By doing so, we will contribute to the efforts in strengthening the credibility and confidence of our multilateral trading system," he said.

Earlier, hundreds of activists from over 50 countries marched through the streets chanting slogans against the WTO, which they said is not benefiting members and even worsening global trade. They condemned attempts by developed countries to prevent developing ones to feed their populations.

--IANS (Posted on 03-12-2013)

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