The long-stalled round of global trade talks is doing its level best to resist being returned from the dead. Last week hopes ran high that, against all expectation and after 12 years of negotiation, a draft slate of new global trade rules could be put before ministers for final approval at the World Trade Organization’s annual conference in Bali next month. New WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo seemed to have achieved success by scaling down the scope of the talks sufficiently to bring recalcitrant countries into agreement over cutting red tape at border customs (trade facilitation, in the jargon) along with a limited number of agricultural issues and a few choice development-related ones.
However, dotting the final i’s and crossing the final t’s proved over the weekend to be beyond officials from the WTO’s 159 member countries. Sticking points included: whether an Indian crop-stockpiling plan should remain exempt from WTO subsidy rules; a challenge to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba; Turkey’s reservations about new transit rules; and opposition from Central American nations to stopping the use of customs brokers in handling trade. Language acceptable to all on these points proved elusive. “We spent nine hours on one paragraph this morning. Once again, a near-death experience,” one participant told the Reuters news agency late on Sunday. The last hope for life — and for the WTO to retain a vestige of relevance in a world furnished with ever more bilateral and regional trade agreements — now lies with the ministerial meeting in Bali.