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Trade diplomats fail to reach pre-summit deal: WTO chief

Negotiators holding marathon talks in Geneva have failed to produce a deal to put on the table at a crunch summit next week, World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo said Tuesday.

“The reality is that we have proved that we can’t cross the final yard here in Geneva. The process here is over,” Azevedo told reporters.

“This is not about shortness of time. If we had a few more weeks, we would still not make it,” he said.

“If we are to get this deal over the line, we will need political engagement and political will,” he added.

Earlier Tuesday, the WTO’s 159 member economies had held a crunch meeting to decide whether they had made sufficient headway to put a formal draft document before trade ministers at the WTO’s December 3-6 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

They pored over a 53-page draft accord which still contained an array of negotiating options that needed honing down, drawn up after last-ditch, round the clock talks.

Negotiators from the WTO’s member economies have spent weeks scrambling to bridge bitter differences and try to revive talks on an accord to ease barriers to global commerce.

Azevedo, the Brazilian former trade envoy who was sworn-in as WTO director general in September, has warned that the negotiating must not be left until the Bali summit.

Bali is seen as perhaps the last chance to revive the WTO’s so-called “Doha Round” of talks, launched in 2001 at a summit in Qatar.

The round’s goal is to produce a wide-ranging global accord on opening markets and removing trade barriers, with a key goal being to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.

By some estimates, Azevedo noted, a final deal could provide a $1 trillion boost to global commerce.

But the talks have stalled as rich countries, emerging powers and the world’s poorest nations spar over the concessions needed.

Azevedo, however, cautioned that the splits were more complex.

“There is not a north-south divide,” he said.

Negotiators had long ruled out the chances of Bali reviving the Doha Round, and instead tried to draw up lower-level thematic accords for the summit, which could be fed into a wider package later.

One covers “trade facilitation”, which involves simplifying customs procedures in an effort to make commerce smoother, and where divisions centre on the time-lag developing countries would get to fall into line, plus the support they would get from donors to do so.

Another division is over “food security”, pushed by India, under which developing countries want to be allowed to subsidise grain stockpiling to help low-income farmers and consumers — stocks that critics warn could end up on the open market, skewing trade.