World Trade Organization overcomes last-minute hitch to adopt Bali package

Written by Surabhi Rastogi | Surabhi | Bali | Updated: Dec 8 2013, 16:22pm hrs
WTOWTO director-general Roberto Azevedo (centre) is congratulated by delegates after the closing ceremony of the ninth WTO ministerial conference in Bali, on Saturday PTI
The World Trade Organization (WTO) reached its first ever trade reform deal on Saturday to a roar of approval from nearly 160 ministers, who had gathered on the Indonesian island of Bali to decide on the make-or-break agreement that could add $1 trillion to the global economy. The approval came after Cuba dropped a last-gasp threat to veto the package.

It always seems impossible until its done, WTO director general Roberto Azevedo quoted former South African president Nelson Mandela, while describing the furious negotiations over the past two days.

Getting the first such declaration in over two decades was not easy. After India and developing nations were brought around by changes in the draft text on agriculture on Friday night, it was the turn of Cuba and Latin American countries, including Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela, to put the deal on ice in the early hours of Saturday.

The talks, which had opened on Tuesday, nearly came unstuck at the last minute when Cuba refused to accept a deal that would not help pry open the US embargo of the Caribbean island. Cuba later agreed on a compromise with the US.

All member nations of the WTO adopted the Bali package consisting of 10 documents on trade facilitation, agriculture, cotton and development issues.

The package provides flexibility to developing countries on vital food security programme. We will change the agreement on agriculture. In the meantime, it will allow developing nations to avoid disputes for food security, said Indonesian minister of trade Gita Wirjawan, who, as the chair and host of the summit, brought the conference to an end.

Addressing the closing ceremony of the summit, a visibly emotional Azevedo said, We have brought the world back into the World Trade Organization. For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered, adding, Were back in business...Bali is just the beginning. We will be able to move on to the Doha round of global trade talks. The WTO chief also thanked his wife with a catch in his voice and tears in his eyes.

India has played a major role in reviving and re-energising the Doha round of talks. The Bali declaration is a positive step, said Indian commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma.

The Bali declaration also includes five draft agreements on TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints, work programme on electronic commerce, work programme on small economies, aid for trade, besides trade and transfer of technology. As per the decision of the ninth ministerial meet, the WTO has been asked to prepare a work programme for the Doha round.

But there was scepticism how much had really been achieved. Beyond papering over a serious dispute on food security, precious little progress was made at Bali, said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. Dealing with the fracas on food security sucked the oxygen out of the rest of the talks.

A study by the Washington DC-based Peterson Institute of International Economics estimated the agreement would inject $960 billion into the global economy and create 21 million jobs, 18 million of them in developing nations.

(With inputs from agencies)