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WTO seals first deal in 19-year life

In the first-ever pact reached after the launch of the Doha Round of trade talks, ministers from 159 countries okayed the Bali package early on Saturday morning.

After tortuous negotiations in the last four days and a last-minute hiccup from Cuba and three others Latin American countries opposing a deal, the Ministers reached an agreement in discussions that extended beyond the four-day schedule. ‘The ninth ministerial conference adopted the full Bali package... these are historic achievements but the race is not over,’ Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said during the closing session of the WTO ninth ministerial conference.

On Friday India had scored a major victory when the WTO agreed to allow countries to provide subsidy on staple food crops without any threat of punitive action. On the contentious issue of public stock holding of grains for food security purposes, Gita said, ‘We have negotiated a package for food security that will provide food to millions of poor in the world.’

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma too described the decision as historic for India. India has played a major role in the revival and re-energising the Doha Round of talks. The Bali declaration is a positive step,’ Sharma added.

On the trade facilitation agreement, Gita said that pact would boost global trade by $1 trillion. ‘We did it... it is a historic deal... these are historic achievements... but there is still much to do...,’ Gita added.

The WTO has achieved a major breakthrough since 1995, when it was formed. The deal also keeps alive the possibility of a broader agreement to create a level playing field for rich and poor nations in the future.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo thanked host nation Indonesia and member countries for success of the Bali talks. ‘We have put the world back into the World Trade Organisation,’ he said, adding, ‘For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered.’

There was not much hope when the talks started especially after India put up a tough and unrelenting stand on the food security issue and subsidy, almost threatening collapse of the negotiations. But on Friday, it was agreed that nations such as India would be allowed to fix a minimum support price (MSP) for farm produce and sell staple grains to the poor at subsidised rates.

It was also agreed to permit countries to store foodgrains to meet contingency. WTO members gave developing nations a temporary dispensation from subsidy limits, shelving the issue for negotiations at a later time.ency requirements.

The talks were threatened at the eleventh hour when Cuba objected to the removal of a reference to the decades-long US trade embargo that Cuba wants lifted. The centrepiece of the agreement reached in Bali was measures to ease barriers to trade by simplifying customs procedures and making them more transparent.

The deal may boost global trade by $1 trillion over time and also keeps alive the WTO’s broader Doha Round of trade negotiations, sometimes known as the development round because of sweeping changes in regulations, taxes and subsidies that would benefit low income countries. Azevedo said that the WTO will spend the next year developing a fresh approach for moving forward with the Doha negotiations.
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