Business World

Monday 20 November 2017

Ministers close to sealing historic global trade pact

India's Trade Minister Anand Sharma
India's Trade Minister Anand Sharma

Darragh McCullough and Randy Fabi

Trade ministers, including Ireland's Richard Bruton, appeared close to sealing the world's biggest trade reform for two decades early yesterday, after India, the most vocal holdout, endorsed a draft text presented by the head of the World Trade Organisation.

The deal, thrashed out at talks on the Indonesian island of Bali, would lower trade barriers and speed up the passage of goods through customs.

Analysts estimate that over time it could boost the world economy by hundreds of billions of dollars and create more than 20 million jobs, mostly in developing countries.

Collapsed

Analysts say the deal will be good for Ireland because it will encourage exports. Back in 2008, the previous trade talks collapsed without a deal as India and the US failed to compromise over a proposal to help poor farmers deal with floods of imports.

Irish farmers were opposed to that deal but there was little sign of domestic opposition to the current deal over the past few weeks.

Failure would have represented a body blow to the 159-nation WTO, formed in 1995 and still without a major trade deal to its credit after many years of negotiating fiascos.

"It is a victory for the WTO and for the global community to have arrived at a mature decision," Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma told reporters. "We are more than happy. It is a great day. It is a historic day."

WTO chief Roberto Azevedo, a Brazilian diplomat, took the helm of the WTO in September and launched a punishing regime of round-the-clock talks and "whatever works" diplomacy.

Even so, the outcome had appeared in doubt on Thursday.

If agreed, the reform would slash red tape at customs around the world, give improved terms of trade to the poorest

countries, and allow developing countries to skirt the normal rules on farm subsidies if they are trying to feed the poor.

It would also revive confidence in the WTO's ability to negotiate global trade deals, after it consistently failed to clinch agreement in the Doha talks that started in 2001 and proved over-ambitious.

Since then, global trade pacts declined in favour of regional deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that the US is negotiating with 11 other countries, and a similar deal it is pursuing with the EU.

Irish Independent

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