Global trade pact in sight
Trade Organisation’s future in the balance
THE first global trade reform since the creation of the World Trade Organisation was ready for agreement by ministers from the body’s 159 member countries late yesterday, sources involved in the talks said.
The organisation’s directorgeneral Roberto Azevedo has drafted a text that he will submit to the full membership, signalling that he believes he has found terms that are acceptable to all members, including India which had raised vocal objections over agriculture.
Barring any last-minute veto, the deal aims to slash red tape at customs around the world, give improved terms of trade to the poorest countries, and allow developing countries to skirt the normal rules on farm subsidies if they are trying to feed the poor.
It would also revive confidence in the organisation’s ability to negotiate global trade deals, after a string of failures that left the body at risk of sliding into irrelevance.
“We are very close,” spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters at the meeting in Bali.
“As things stand now, the prospects are promising.”
On Wednesday, 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 organisation’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 US and other developed countries.
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 organisation launched the Doha Round, which failed to yield concrete results, and many experts had warned that failure in Bali would leave regional and bilateral trade arrangements as the only avenue for trade reform, dividing the world and reversing the globalising goal of the organisation.
A Bali trade deal, which is far less ambitious than the Doha Round, would open the way to much wider trade reforms and enable the body to modernise 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.
The deal also includes limited reforms in agriculture, including reducing export subsidies, opening borders to least developed countries, and the food subsidy policy championed by India, which proved the biggest obstacle.
“We are trying to get justice for the poor people,” Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma said as he entered the final day of the meeting. India will next year fully implement a welfare programme to provide cheap food to 800 million people that it fears will contravene the organisation’s rules capping farm subsidies to 10 percent of production.
If talks were to fail, the organisation may see its role eroded by regional trade pacts now being negotiated, such as the US-led 12-nation TransPacific Partnership and a USEU tie-up known as the TTP. – Reuters
PORT OF PLENTY: An increasing number of oil supply vessels and rigs are using Cape Town harbour for repairs and refurbishment.