WTO ministers push for Bali trade deal

PARIS (AFP) - Negotiators are to make a push over the next two months to lay the groundwork for a smaller-scale deal on trade at the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) next ministerial meeting in Bali set for December, officials said Thursday.

On the sidelines of an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conference, Australia's trade minister Craig Emerson said nations were taking aim at reaching agreement on hundreds of minor technical issues by the end of July to ensure there is sufficient time to conclude a deal at Bali.

"It is now clear to everyone what needs to be done to get a deal at Bali," said Mr Emerson.

The so-called Doha round of global trade talks under the auspices of the WTO have been stalled for years, leading numerous countries to shift focus to bilateral and regional deals, but there has been a recent push for reaching a smaller deal.

So-called trade facilitation refers to often very technical issues of customs rules and treatment, and officials said that although there is widespread consensus on the issues, nations have foregone agreements as they wait for an overall deal.

While officials said that there is little political disagreement on these issues they have a lot of economic impact.

Mr Emerson said experts estimated the trade facilitation accounted for some 44 per cent of the potential trade gains from the entire Doha trade round.

"We will know by the end of July whether this meeting has provided the necessary impetus" to put a deal within reach by Bali.

Outgoing WTO chief Pascal Lamy said there was a recognition amongst ministers that "failure at Bali would have a long lasting damaging effect on the WTO".

While he expressed hope that this meeting provided the necessary momentum, he acknowledged "there is a feeling we are entering into a danger zone".

Nations will also look to reach a deal at Bali on providing flexibility in agricultural trade rules for the import of food for stockpiles to ensure food security.

Brazil's Roberto Azevedo takes over from Frenchman Lamy on Sept 1.