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‘Sombre’ mood as hope fades for WTO deal in Bali

Nusa Dua, Indonesia: India on Wednesday rejected a proposed World Trade Organisation package, casting a cloud over a high-stakes conference tasked with reviving the WTO’s faltering efforts to liberalise global commerce.

The package, which New Delhi fears could endanger its efforts to subsidise food in the huge nation, “cannot be accepted”, commerce minister Anand Sharma said.

“Agriculture sustains millions of subsistence farmers. Their interests must be secured. Food security is essential for four billion people of the world,” he told his counterparts on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

“Yes, we have rejected it,” he later told reporters, calling it a “final decision”.

His comments appeared to torpedo WTO chief Roberto Azevedo’s hopes that delegates can agree on a modest package of measures to keep alive the multilateral organisation’s stumbling 12-year-old drive to slash trade barriers.

“I am an optimist by nature, but today I must admit I am in a somewhat sombre mood,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told reporters.

One by one, delegates to the four-day conference warned Bali could be the last chance to rescue the WTO’s vision of an open trading environment fair to both rich and poor countries.

“Leaving Bali this week without an agreement would deal a debilitating blow to the WTO as a forum for multilateral negotiations,” said US Trade Representative Michael Froman.

“And if that happens, the unfortunate truth is that the loss would be felt most heavily by those members who can least afford it.”