Ministers consider fresh drafts for world trade deal

Nusa Dua (Indonesia), Dec 6 : Ministers of the World Trade Orhanisation's 159 member-countries Friday pored over revised drafts on a package of issues designed to streamline trade, allow developing countries more options for providing food security, and boost least developed countries' trade and development.

The ministers attending the 9th WTO Ministerial conference got the drafts of "Bali Package" after marathon and intensive consultations here.

If the texts of the drafts find favour, then a deal allowing developing countries farm subsidies for food security of their people, improving terms of trade to the Least Developed Countries and cutting customs rules around the world would be signed.

The latest draft texts, available here, are the product of weeks of intensive negotiations held in Geneva before the Ministerial Meeting. They were further refined after round-the-clock consultations at the conference.

Under WTO rules, a consensus is required for the decisions to be adopted and, therefore, approval of member states is necessary.

Earlier in the day, negotiators scrambled for a compromise on the food subsidy issue.

India's programme of stocking subsidized food grain to ensure cheaper food for its people is considered to have blocked the progress of negotiations.

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

Late Thursday night, Indonesian officials met their Indian counterparts and top WTO officials.

Officials said WTO Director Genral Roberto Azevedo, Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, and Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma held various parleys into the early hours of Friday.

"We're trying to get justice," Sharma said on arrival at the meeting Friday morning.

"There were consultations through the night. The reaction has been, we are not there yet."

On Thursday, Sharma reaffirmed India's stance calling food security "a fundamental issue", and added that "India will never compromise".

The drafts concern three areas - agriculture, trade facilitation and LDC trade and development.

There are four issues in agriculture out of a larger set negotiated in the Doha Round. These include:

--General services: a proposed list of general services of particular interest to developing countries that would be added to the "Green Box" - the category of domestic support that is considered not to distort trade (or to distort minimally) and therefore allowed without any limits.

--Developing countries' public stockholding of food for food security.

-- Tariff quota administration: a proposal to deal with the way a specific type of import quota ("tariff quotas") is to be handled when the quota is persistently under-filled.

-- Export competition, the collective term for export subsidies and other policies with similar effects.

The LDC trade draft covers:

-- Duty-free, quota-free access for least developed countries to export to richer countries' markets

-- Simplified preferential rules of origin for least developed countries, making it easier for these countries to identify products as their own products and qualify for preferential treatment in importing countries

-- A "services waiver", allowing least developed countries preferential access to richer countries' services markets

-- A "monitoring mechanism", consisting of meetings and other methods for monitoring special treatment given to developing countries.

Trade facilitation aims at cutting red tape and streamlining customs and port procedures.

If the texts are approved, the agreement will be the first global trade reform since the creation of the WTO.

--IANS (Posted on 06-12-2013)

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