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WTO looks set for historic trade pact news
06 December 2013

Roberto Azevedo Trade ministers attending the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) conference in Bali, Indonesia, seemed set to sign the first global trade reform since its creation with the conference approving a revised draft on a package of issues designed to streamline trade, allow developing countries more options for providing food security, boost least developed countries' trade and help development more generally.

The revised draft is ready for agreement by ministers from the WTO's 159 member countries later on Friday, sources involved in the talks said.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo has drafted a text that, he said, has terms that are acceptable to all members, including India, which has raised vocal objections over agriculture.

Barring any last-minute veto, the deal would help slash red tape at customs around the world, give improved terms of trade to the poorest countries, and allow developing countries to skirt rules on farm subsidies if they are trying to feed the poor.

It would also revive confidence in the WTO'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,'' WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters at the meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. ''As things stand now, the prospects are promising.''

A deal that seemed to teeter on the brink of collapse is expected to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy.

Attention focused squarely on agriculture and food security as India stood firm on its stance on a global trade deal.

India has insisted it would not compromise on a policy of subsised food for hundreds of millions of poor, putting it at odds with the United States and other developed countries that subsidise their rich farmers.

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 WTO launched the Doha Round, which failed to yield concrete results so far, and a failure in Bali would have reversed the goal of the WTO.

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.

India's tough stance drew support from developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America, though the meeting's host, Indonesia, pressed for it to soften its stand.

"We are trying to get justice for the poor people," India's commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma told reporters on the final day of the meeting.

India's plan to implement a welfare programme to provide cheap food to 800 million people would have contravened WTO rules curbing farm subsidies to 10 per cent of production if the original draft was approved.

India also rejected a US offer to waive the 10 per cent rule until 2017, demanding the exemptions continue indefinitely until a solution is found.

Revised drafts of 'Bali Package' have been sent to ministers after intensive consultations.

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WTO looks set for historic trade pact