India throws weight behind WTO drive for December trade pact

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India threw its weight pn Monday behind a World Trade Organisation (WTO) drive to clinch a deal to ease global trade at a December summit in Bali after years of deadlocked negotiations.

The Indian commitment came as new WTO chief Robert Azevedo visited New Delhi to seek support for an agreement that he said could add up to a trillion dollars to the world economy, while paving the way for further trade reforms.

"India will remain consistently and positively engaged to ensure the outcome of the ministerial meeting is positive," Commerce Minister Anand Sharma told a news conference, flanked by Mr Azevedo who took over the top WTO job last month.

Mr Sharma added that New Delhi still believes in the "centrality" of the WTO multilateral trading system, at a time when countries are no longer waiting for progress on a global deal and are instead seeking regional and bilateral agreements.

"It (the WTO) has to be strengthened to correct imbalances and distortions in the global trade," Mr Sharma added.

Mr Azevedo told reporters that "it is time we put the WTO back in business", saying a deal was "doable" in Bali, even though the 159-member body has failed to produce a global trade agreement since its founding in 1995.

Mr Azevedo on Saturday appealed for support from Asia-Pacific nations currently meeting in Bali as he races against the clock to assemble an agreement.

Mr Azevedo, who called the next few weeks "crunch time", wants the shape of a deal in place by the end of October, so it can be finalised in time for the WTO's ninth ministerial meeting in Bali.

The pact taking form is narrower in scope than the gridlocked Doha development round and has been dubbed the "Doha Lite" agreement.

The most deadlocked portions of the Doha agenda have been set aside and countries are focusing talks on areas where agreement is possible, such as simplifying and harmonising trade procedures and agricultural subsidies.

Mr Azevedo said an accord in Bali could break the Doha gridlock and allow the WTO to move forward to create a modern new multilateral agenda, that embraces new models of production and communication in the Internet age.

"Bali is in my view absolutely critical in establishing the conditions for moving forward," he said.

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