WTO deal reached

BALI, Indonesia — In a dramatic last minute deal as night was turning to day Dec. 7, delegates to the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting reached a package of agreements with significant potential for agriculture.
It calls for reform of tariff rate quota administration to increase trade, a change of rules to reduce non-tariff barriers at borders, a commitment to pursue elimination of export subsidies and a plan to create new permanent rules governing publicly controlled food stockpiles to deal with food security in developing countries.
More importantly for the WTO, it marks the first concrete deal since the Doha Development Round negotiations were launched 12 years ago.
During the five-day ministerial meeting that stretched through the night Dec. 6-7, there had been growing speculation that another failure would make the WTO largely irrelevant as a multilateral trade-negotiating forum.
WTO officials and members said Dec. 7 the early morning agreement revitalizes the organization.
The Bali deal “will re-establish the WTO as an organization that advances trade liberalization around the world,” Canadian trade minister Ed Fast said in a statement issued while he is in Singapore for a weekend meeting of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiation.
“The Bali Ministerial meeting has produced a promising package that includes market access in agriculture, gains for least-developed countries and an important trade facilitation agreement that will improve the movement of goods across international borders.”
Canadian farm groups involved in the WTO process praised the deal.
Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnet said it was an important t breakthrough
“I am pleased to see that political will was shown to arrive at an agreement,” he said in an email as he prepared to leave Bali Dec. 7. “This movement was needed to bring some credibility to the WTO negotiating framework.”
The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance said the most important advance for agricultural trade is the agreement to reform and make more transparent border bureaucracy and procedures that often act as a drag on trade and a non-tariff barrier.
“The agreement on trade facilitation will be particularly important for Canada’s agriculture and food sectors that together export over $44 billion a year,” CAFTA said in a statement issued from Singapore.
“Greater transparency and common disciplines in key areas such as customs rules and test procedures and new obligations around the treatment of perishable goods will help facilitate trade and reduce the costs incurred by Canadian exporters.”
The agreement to clean up administration of tariff rate quota import commitments will put an obligation on countries that promise to allow a quantity of product into the country at reduced tariffs to actually import most of the volume they promise.
While celebrated by ministers in Bali, the deal almost slipped through their fingers.
Late Dec. 6 when a draft text was circulated that had solved many of the earlier sticking points including Indian objections to proposed rules on how to build and maintain public food stockpiles to distribute to poor households, a new objection surfaced.
Cuba, along with three Latin American allies, objected to a clause in the trade facilitation text that they said did not properly take account of the effects of the decades long American economic embargo against the Communist country.
In a dramatic appearance before journalists in the middle of the night, WTO media director Keith Rockwell said a vote had been held in the negotiating meeting on the proposed text.
The count was 155 for and four against. Since WTO operates by unanimity, that would have killed the deal.
“It is disappointing,” said Rockwell. “The poorest countries in the world have endorsed this.
Five hours later, with a small wording concession to Cuba, the deal was sealed.”

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