WTO talks go deep into overtime

Publicado: 16/06/2022

Geneva (AFP) -

Talks at the World Trade Organization went deep into overtime on Thursday with key holdout India talking up the prospects for a landmark deal spanning food security, fishing and combating Covid-19.

With ministers struggling to conclude agreements on each separate issue, countries were going round the clock making trade-offs which, they hope, could see several measures go through in a grand bargain.

Ministers from the global trade body's 164 members have been negotiating face-to-face since Sunday at the WTO's headquarters in Geneva, in their first such conference since the December 2017 flop in Buenos Aires.

They added a fifth day of talks to try to break the deadlock -- and prove the organisation can play a role in tackling big global challenges.

Some delegations have accused India of being intransigent on every topic under discussion at the WTO -- where decisions can only pass with the agreement of all 164 members.

But Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal sounded upbeat as the talks ploughed on into the evening.

'India is convinced that this will turn out to be one of the most successful ministerials that the WTO has seen in a long time,' he told reporters.

'We are very confident that the progress made... and the positivity with which everybody is engaged truly is a matter of celebration for the world.

'I'm sure that that spirit will help us cross the hump.

'We have taken some solid decisions... subject to a few issues being sorted out.'

- EU targets 'positive outcomes' -

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis later told AFP negotiations were ongoing and 'quite complicated' because there were 'major issues to handle'.

'We are in a complicated geopolitical situation and also the views across different work streams are quite divergent,' he said.

'We need to address those divergences but I would say we're working towards positive outcomes and hopefully we'll be able to reach such positive outcomes.'

Ministers have been trying to secure deals on curbing harmful fishing subsidies; temporarily waiving Covid-19 vaccine patents; food security; agriculture; e-commerce; the WTO's response to pandemics; and reform of the organisation itself.

Countries hit a brick wall late Wednesday trying to secure each separate deal on its own merits, so they spent the night horse-trading to try to keep them all afloat in some format.

Giant trays of sandwiches kept delegates going after they finished all the fruit juice in the building.

'They're looking at a broad package: what can be achieved, trade-offs in different areas,' a Geneva trade official told reporters.

'We're into the real bargaining.'

- Fisheries exemption -

WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who took over in March 2021, has hinged her leadership on breathing new life into the sclerotic organisation.

The former foreign and finance minister of Nigeria is hoping to pull off a coup by finalising a long-sought deal on curbing harmful fishing subsidies.

Negotiations towards banning subsidies that encourage overfishing and threaten the sustainability of the planet's fish stocks have been going on at the WTO for more than two decades.

Several sources close to the discussions said the draft agreement on the conference's flagship issue has been heavily watered down.

India has been pushing for a 25-year exemption -- far longer than many countries are comfortable with.

'India has always been a reluctant trading partner,' said Harsh V Pant, an international relations professor at King's College London university's India Institute.

'India has been notorious when it comes to signing free trade agreements,' he told AFP.

- E-commerce wrangle -

On waiving Covid-19 vaccine patents, a source said the deal needed yet more time.

Ministers have also been arguing over whether to extend the moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transactions, in place since 1998.

But India and South Africa say it has a negative impact, with Pakistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka also sceptical.

WTO deputy director-general Anabel Gonzalez said there were 'intense negotiations' going on in a packed room discussing e-commerce.

'It's difficult, but I am hopeful,' she said.

The United States told an earlier meeting that the moratorium had supported the growth of digital commerce, which had provided an 'economic lifeline' during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a Geneva trade official.


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