WTO talks fail to agree on global trade deal text

GENEVA (REUTERS) - Marathon talks on the World Trade Organisation's first-ever worldwide trade reform in Geneva failed early on Monday to agree on a text to put to ministers who meet in Bali next month.

The fate of the agreement to streamline customs procedures and speed up global trade could now hang on whether the ministers can overcome remaining differences when they gather early next month at the WTO's biennial conference in Bali.

The International Chamber of Commerce says the deal would add US$960 billion (S$1.2 trillion) to the world economy and create 21 million jobs, 18 million of them in developing countries. It would also revive confidence in the WTO as a forum for trade negotiations.

The proposed accord includes elements of the Doha round of trade talks, which began in 2001 but repeatedly failed to produce an agreement over the subsequent decade.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo has forced diplomats from the 159 member countries through a punishing 10 weeks of talks to try to agree a text for the ministers to rubber-stamp.

Mr Azevedo said on Friday he hoped to clinch a deal over the weekend. But the final Geneva negotiating session finished at 7am without agreement.

Mr Taco Stoppels, a counsellor at the Dutch mission to the WTO, tweeted that Mr Azevedo "closed meeting by simply thanking everyone. Text is not ready".

People involved in the talks said negotiators had come very close to a deal, although progress at times had been glacial. "We spent nine hours on one paragraph this morning. Once again, a near-death experience," one participant said late on Sunday.

Unresolved issues include an Indian crop stockpiling plan that is exempt from WTO subsidy rules and a challenge to the US economic embargo on Cuba. Turkey also has concerns about new rules on transit, while there is Central American resistance to demands to stop using customs brokers to handle trade.

Mr Azevedo will address the WTO ambassadors at a meeting of the trade body's General Council on Tuesday, which will formally submit their work to the ministerial conference.

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