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WTO hammers out first and `inclusive' global trade deal

28 November 2014

Roberto AzevędoThe World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Thursday ratified a global deal to ease customs rules and facilitate faster movement of trade – the first in its history – that also addresses the concerns of the developing and poor member nations as well.

After months of uncertainty that threatened to undermine the trade body's global role, WTO on Thursday approved the first trade deal in its history, ending a four-month impasse, after India and the US resolved their differences over public stockholding of food.

The deal addresses India's concerns over WTO stand on public stockholding by developing and poor countries for food security by agreeing to continue indefinitely a deal reached at Bali last year beyond the four years as agreed earlier if a permanent solution is not reached by that time.

The deal signed by 160 member countries of the WTO also raises the possibility of a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding of food by the end of next year.

The modified Bali trade agreement accommodates public stockholding for food security purposes and has mentioned it in explicit terms that for developing countries, public food procurement programmes for food security will not be challenged. But India and other developing countries will have to report their procurement to the WTO.

The modified Bali trade agreement also mentions about a deadline – 31 December 2015 – by which a permanent solution to the food procurement issue will be found on a best endeavour basis.

Further, a special mechanism will be set up to find a permanent solution to the food procurement issue.

WTO director general Roberto Azevędo congratulated members for adopting decisions related to public stockholding for food security purposes, the trade facilitation agreement and the post-Bali work and thereby putting WTO ''back on track''.

''We have delivered today on a promise we made in Bali. Now let's make it count,'' he said.

''By agreeing these three decisions we have put ourselves back in the game. We have put our negotiating work back on track - that means all the Bali decisions: trade facilitation, public stockholding, the LDC issues, the decisions on agriculture, development, and all of the other elements. And we have given ourselves the chance to prepare the post-Bali work programme.'' Azavedo said.

While the WTO has renewed its commitment to the multilateral system in the process, Azavedo said, we need to find an easier way of doing things. ''While we have seen renewed commitment to the WTO, the truth is that we must avoid repeatedly putting ourselves in this position.''

''We showed in Bali that we can deliver. Now we need to figure out how to deliver more and how to deliver faster,'' he said.

The WTO director general will be convening a meeting with the negotiating group chairs tomorrow in order to bring members together immediately to resume work in all areas.

He also set a July 2015 deadline for coming out with the work programme.

On public stockholding, he said, WTO stood committed to following an accelerated timeframe, so that a permanent solution is arrived at by the December 2015 target date for concluding negotiations.

Current WTO rules cap the value of food subsidies at 10 per cent of the value of production. But that price is nearly three decades old and many countries would find it difficult to stay within the limit.

This was not acceptable to India, which said this would affect its food security programme and food grain procurement through minimum support prices.

On trade facilitation, he said, ''adopting the protocol of amendment was an essential step. It allows the process of implementation to begin. But this is just one of many steps we need to take going forward.''

The agreement means the WTO will introduce new standards for customs checks and border procedures.

While its proponents say this will streamline the flow of trade around the world, adding as much as $1 trillion and 21 million jobs to the world economy, WTO has received 50 `Category A' notifications, including the first from an LDC member, on the likely effects of the TFA on their economies.

''It's all agreed,'' a WTO official said outside the closed-door WTO meeting in Geneva.

However, two thirds of members must deposit their instruments of acceptance for the agreement to come into force.

''We must ensure that LDCs and developing countries get the help they need to reap the full benefits of the Trade Facilitation Agreement,'' Azavedo said, adding that with the TFA, the WTO will continue to work closely with other organisations such as the World Bank, the WCO, UNCTAD, the OECD, the ITC and others.

To push the new trade deal, Azavedo said, he would attend the East African Community summit in Nairobi, conduct a bilateral visit in Dar es Salaam, and take part in the African Union trade ministers meeting in Addis Ababa.

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