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WTO to meet in September as Geneva talks deadlock

01 August 2014

Roberto Azevedo, director general of WTORoberto Azevedo, director general of the World Trade Organisation has asked all members to come back to the negotiating table in September to discuss a way forward after the Geneva talks aimed at facilitating a trade protocol ended in stalemate over the issue of food security.

With India and other developing countries steadfast in their stand that any agreement on trade facilitation would be possible only if a permanent solution for its concerns on food security is arrived at, the Geneva talks failed to meet the 31 July deadline for a trade facilitation pact set in the WTO Ministerial in Bali in December last.

"We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge the gap," Azevedo said in a statement after the passing of the 31 July deadline for the deal.

The US said the failure of the WTO's 160 members to agree on a landmark trade facilitation deal has left the world trade body on "uncertain new ground".

The Geneva meet solely focused on the Trade Facilitation Agreement aimed at streamlining global customs procedures, as was agreed to at the Bali conference in December last year, and did not take up issues like food security that are more important to the Doha Round of world trade talks.

Talks failed mainly over demands from India and other developing countries that the WTO give aproe the developing and poor countries' right to stockpile food for their poor, which the elite club tried to sidestep.

Existing WTO rules cap the value of food subsidies at 10 per cent of the total value of production and that too at prices that are two decades old. This means that many countries would find it difficult to stay within the limit potentially attracting strong penalties from the trade body.

This will affect India's food security programme and food grain procurement through the minimum support prices (MSP), government sources said.

''Our stand remains the same,'' commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters after meeting US commerce secretary Penny Pritzker on Thursday.

"We are obviously sad and disappointed that a very small handful of countries were unwilling to keep their commitments from the December conference in Bali," US ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke said after the meeting in Geneva.

Meanwhile, US secretary of state John Kerry on Thursday said he was hopeful that a compromise in a global trade deal to ease customs rules incorporating India's concerns over the food security was still possible, even as the Geneva meet failed to meet the agreed deadline of 31 July.

''We are obviously encouraging our friends in India to try to find a path here where there is a compromise that meets both needs, and we think that's achievable. We hope that it's achievable,'' Kerry told reporters after talks with Indian leaders as part of an annual strategic dialogue.

India had clearly told the WTO that it will only back a Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) the so-called customs rules -  only if its demands on rules for government-led food procurement and welfare schemes are implemented in the same timeframe.

''Our feeling obviously is that the agreement that was reached in Bali is an agreement that, importantly, can provide for food security for India,'' Kerry said.

''We do not dismiss the concerns India has about large number of poor people who require some sort of food assurance,'' Kerry said.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said: ''Talks are underway in Geneva. Let's wait for the outcome.''

WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said in Geneva he remained hopeful a compromise could be found.


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