NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) - India said on Wednesday it could not accept a WTO proposal on food security, casting a gloom over a high-stakes conference tasked with salvaging the body's faltering efforts to liberalise world trade.
A proposal that New Delhi feels could endanger its efforts to subsidise food in the huge nation "cannot be accepted", India's Anand Sharma told his fellow commerce ministers gathered in the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
"Agriculture sustains millions of subsistence farmers. Their interests must be secured. Food security is essential for four billion people of the world," he said.
"Yes, we have rejected it," he later told reporters, calling it a "final decision".
WTO chief Roberto Azevedo has implored delegates to reach a modest agreement on various measures in Bali, hoping it will keep alive the multilateral organisation's stumbling 12-year-old drive to slash trade barriers.
But chances for success have increasingly centred on India's position on food security, and Mr Sharma's comments appeared to scupper hopes for compromise.
Mr Azevedo has issued escalating warnings that failure to leave Bali with an accord could render obsolete the WTO's push to secure a trading environment that is fair to both rich and poor countries.
He has said alternative regional pacts between major trading nations including the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pushed by Washington cannot ensure such equity.
"What is at stake is the cause of multilateralism itself," Mr Azevedo said on Tuesday at the conference's opening.
The WTO launched the "Doha Round" of talks in Qatar in 2001, seeking to overhaul the world trading system by setting a global framework of rules and tearing down barriers.
But protectionist disputes between rich and poor countries - as well as the WTO's insistence that any accord be unanimous - has made a deal elusive.
Pulling back, the WTO has put forward a limited "Bali package" on specific issues, hoping agreement on those measures can keep the Doha Round on life-support for a later push.